"Location, location, location" is the familiar refrain of those in the real estate realm. Buyers, sellers, leasers, renters and squatters all know that above all else, a spot's site is its draw. President Donald Trump has been drawn recently by the allure of the massive island, Greenland. The potential purchase of Greenland and the rental of my house have little in common, but they do both occupy an exceptional location. The reason I live where I do is that my house is near both my friends and the campus. Greenland's prime position relates both to its place on a map and its underground treasures.
With about 80 percent of the country above the Arctic Circle, Greenland has long served as a home for an outpost of the U.S. Military. According to the Army's JoAnne Castagna, Thule Air Base at Qaanaaq served as a mere refueling station as far back as the 1950s, but it began to focus on "missile warning and space surveillance" both during and after the Cold War. About 200 American military personnel are currently stationed there, and the base is constantly being upgraded. Due to its relatively close proximity to the western, developed portion of America's on-again, off-again arch-rival Russia, it is safe to say Thule Air Base will continue to be of strategic importance to the U.S. Military.
Even though Greenland does not currently produce much in the way of minerals and oil, it certainly has the capability to do so one day.
According to Tim Boersma and Kevin Foley of the Brookings Institute, both coasts have "promising potential for offshore oil," and there are notable deposits of "iron ore, copper, zinc, gold, uranium and light and heavy rare earth elements."
The rare earth elements are of particular interest to the United States. China, with whom the U.S. is in a trade war, produces 70% of the world's supply of rare metals, which are used to create a wide spectrum of items, from batteries to glass. The main problem is not the mining—as rare earth can be found worldwide—but in the production, which produces radioactive waste.
According to Stephanie Yang of the Wall Street Journal, America's only rare earth mine has to send all its production to China to be refined. While Greenland does not have a processing facility at this time, its population lives almost entirely on the coast. Much of the country has yet to even be explored. Because so much of it is desolate, storing radioactive waste would not be an issue.
Greenland clearly has immense value, which will only increase in the coming decades. However, one question remains. Why should America spend an exorbitant amount of money on this massive island? You cannot argue that the U.S. could pursue a greater military presence there, for as matters stand now, it essentially has free reign in the region. Furthermore, it is not as if Greenland's rare metals would be more accessible under the American flag. The only hindrance to increased production is a lack of economic incentive for mining companies.
This has not impeded Washington's attempts to acquire Greenland. Besides Trump's recent ambitions, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas made an appeal in 2018, and as far back as 1946, our government has made separate efforts to obtain it. Why this persistence? Ultimately, it comes down to the global chess game between America and its foes.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Balhaus, Sen. Cotton said as much, noting China had tried to "gain a military foothold" in Greenland before the U.S. intervened.
Because Greenland is conveniently placed near both the East and the West, should a hostile power ever set up shop there, the consequences for the U.S. could be dire.
Even though it would be simpler for America to just make out a check to Denmark and forever eradicate the chances of its foes, it should reject this approach. The initial cost would be exorbitant, and it will be quite some time before Greenland will become profitable. Instead, the President and his advisors should seek to build up our relationship with Denmark, so we can remain on amicable terms.
America has enough debt without buying the world's largest island. If our politicians are concerned about China, they should focus on strengthening our bonds with Denmark in order to preemptively limit China's options. Prevention through alliance is the best option.