U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a visit to Denmark next month after his offer to buy Greenland was rejected has thrust this ice-covered semi-autonomous Danish territory into the spotlight. Here’s a look at what makes it special.
WHERE IS GREENLAND?
The world’s largest island sits between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. A 1.7-million-square-kilometer (660,000-square-mile) ice sheet covers 80 percent of the Arctic territory. Greenland’s 56,000 residents are mainly Inuits, the indigenous people. They are concentrated on the west coast in small towns and hamlets or remote coastal settlements where life revolves around fishing and the hunting of seals and whales.
HOW IS IT GOVERNED?
Greenland is part of the Danish realm along with the Faeroe Islands and has its own government and parliament, the 31-seat Inatsisartut. In 1979, Greenland gained home rule from Denmark. Its premier is Kim Kielsen of the left-leaning Siumut party. A police officer-turned politician, Kielsen has been in office since 2014.
Greenland’s economy depends of fisheries and related industries, as well as annual subsidies of 4.5 billion kroner ($670 million) from Denmark, which handles its foreign affairs and defense matters.
The effects of climate change have been particularly dramatic for Greenland, which has seen one of its biggest ice melts on record this summer, contributing to a global rise in sea levels.
Due to global warming, it is believed that oil and other mineral wealth could become more accessible in the Arctic — and Greenland. Nations including Russia, China, the U.S., and Canada are racing to stake as strong a claim as they can to Arctic lands, hoping they will yield future riches.
If these resources are successfully tapped, they could dramatically change the island’s fortunes. However, no oil has yet been found in Greenlandic waters and the thickness of the ice means exploration is only possible in coastal regions.
In 2013, the sparsely populated island removed a 25-year-old ban on uranium mining since the element is often found mixed with other rare earth metals used for smartphones and weapons systems. A southern Greenland mine could be the largest rare-earth metals deposit outside China, which currently accounts for more than 90 percent of global production.
However, conditions are far from ideal and searches for minerals have stalled. Chiefly because of poor infrastructure, lack of sufficient manpower and long winters with frozen ports, 24-hour darkness and temperatures often below minus 30 Celsius (minus 20 Fahrenheit) in the northern parts.
The United States also tried to buy the world’s largest island in 1946. Washington offered Denmark $100 million for Greenland after flirting with the idea of swapping land in Alaska for strategic parts of the Arctic island. Denmark turned the offer down then as well.
U.S. MILITARY OUTPOST
Under a 1951 deal, Denmark allowed the U.S. to build rent-free bases and radar stations on Greenland.
The U.S. Air Force currently maintains only one base in northern Greenland, Thule Air Force Base, 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) south of the North Pole. Former military airfields in Narsarsuaq, Kulusuk and Kangerlussuaq have become civilian airports.
The Thule base, constructed in 1952, was originally designed as a refueling base for long-range bombing missions. It has been a ballistic missile early warning and space surveillance site since 1961.
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