That is not a sentence from an Onion article, although you could be forgiven if you made that mistake. This President, the most unorthodox resident of the White House in modern history, is actually, apparently, interested in buying Greenland – the world’s largest island currently owned by Denmark.
This raises all sort of questions – like, literally, dozens – but I’ve boiled it down to five key ones, which I will now attempt to answer.
It makes sense to get the big one out of the way first, right? Why would the US President want to purchase an island that is 80% covered by an ice sheet and where less than 60,000 people actually live? Trump himself hasn’t said – yet – but there are a few obvious reasons.
The first is because Greenland is widely believed to be hugely rich in natural resources – including iron ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, gold, rare earth elements, uranium and oil. And much of it is currently untapped, due to the fact that, well, 80% of the country is covered by an ice sheet. But due to global warming, that ice sheet is melting rapidly – this summer NASA scientists observed two of the largest melts in the history of Greenland – and that erosion of the ice sheet is expected to make the mining of Greenland’s natural resources more doable.
The second is for geopolitical reasons. The United States already has a foothold in the country – Thule Air Base – and, as The Wall Street Journal, which broke the Greenland purchase story, notes:
“Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, it includes a radar station that is part of a U.S. ballistic missile early-warning system. The base is also used by the U.S. Air Force Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.”
Third, Trump is a man very interested in his legacy in office. Buying Greenland would be a major bullet point on his presidential resume.
2. Is Greenland for sale?
Seems like no!
“#Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism,” tweeted the country’s government on Friday morning. “We’re open for business, not for sale.”
Denmark owns Greenland, but the country has its own autonomous government. The country was granted home rule by the Danes in 1979 and in 2008 voted via referendum for even more autonomy from Denmark.
3. Is this crazy?
Nope – despite what Twitter might make you think.
The United States has actually pursued the purchase of Greenland before, according to a Danish historian named Tage Kaarsted. In 1946, US Secretary of State James Byrnes – serving under President Harry Truman – broached the idea with the Danish foreign minister at a United Nations meeting in New York. Nothing ever came of it. Almost 100 years before that, Secretary of State William Seward – fresh off the US’s purchase of Alaska – apparently looked into buying Greenland from the Danes.
4. Does the US buy a lot of other countries?
One of the last times the United States bought land from a foreign country was in 1867, when Seward orchestrated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million. It was heavily criticized at the time – and has gone down as “Seward’s Folly” in the history books. The US also purchased the Philippine islands from Spain in 1898 for $20 million and the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million.
The most famous land acquisition by the United States came earlier – 1803 to be exact – when we agreed to the Louisiana Purchase with France. The US paid $15 million at the time for land that makes up almost one-quarter of America’s current territory.
5. How does that saying go about Greenland and Iceland?
It goes like this: Greenland is actually icy and Iceland is actually green. And it’s generally true! Blame the Vikings for the names!
The Point: Donald Trump has a lot of wild ideas as president. Buying Greenland may be one of the most unorthodox. But it’s also not one of his worst.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly state the history of US land purchases.