President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit Denmark, but he announced on August 20 that he would not go. The president canceled the trip due to Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s harsh public rejection of Trump’s offer to buy Greenland.
It started out as a rumor in the press: Trump was checking out the possibility of buying the world’s largest island, Greenland, which currently belongs to Denmark. When asked by journalists, the president confirmed the idea, saying, “Strategically it’s interesting, and we’d be interested, but we’ll talk to them a little bit. It’s not number one on the burner.”
Many Danes perceived the president’s comments as a joke, including the Danish Prime Minister, who called the proposal “absurd.” Trump responded on Twitter, saying:
“Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time … The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”
Greenland was discovered by the outlaw Erik the Red in the tenth century. Erik belonged to a group of Norwegians who settled in Iceland to avoid living under the king of Norway. Erik was unwanted in Iceland, however, and ended up settling on an island he had discovered. He christened it Greenland. His son, Leif Erikson, later went on to discover America, 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
Erik arrived in Greenland during the Medieval Warm Period and was, therefore, able to sustain farming on land that today is harsh tundra. When the climate started cooling a few centuries after he arrived, Erik’s settlement withered and died. Eventually, Greenland ended up as a satellite of the kingdom of Denmark.
In America, most people reacted with scorn and laughter at the idea of acquiring Greenland. However, the idea is not new. It was discussed as early as the 1860s, and President Harry Truman offered Denmark $100 million to buy the island in 1946.
With its position close to both the United States and the polar region, Greenland is a highly strategic piece of land. The US already has a military presence there, and the island played a central role during the Cold War. Greenland also happens to be packed with natural resources, including oil.
Trump is fueling the view among many Europeans that he is unstable and reckless. On the surface, his sudden cancellation of an official state visit may seem less than presidential. Maybe he wanted to teach Denmark and other nations not to treat his suggestions as “absurd.” Perhaps there were other hidden factors, and Trump used comments over Greenland as an excuse. Whatever the reason, for now, there will be no state visit to Denmark and no deal to buy Greenland.