A few weeks ago, Arctic military tensions rose as Russia is building new military bases while last year, the U.S. sent its first aircraft carrier to the Arctic in 27 years. We have written before about the Arctic’s abundant resources and its new trade route. As such, Greenland, where ice is melting 6 times faster than in the 1980s, has suddenly found itself in the midst of global geopolitical developments. It is therefore useful to look at the Arctic region from the perspective of this little-knownstrategically located island.
Most political parties in Greenland want full independence from Denmark. The island of merely 56.000 inhabitants obtained self-rule, with its own parliament, in 2009. However, to achieve full independence, it must become less dependent on Denmark, for which it must diversify beyond its fishing industry. That is why the prospect of Chinese firms investing in energy, mining and infrastructure has become a key political topic in Greenland. But Denmark, which still controls Greenland’s foreign and security policy, has protested against rising Chinese influence in Greenland (by warning against the threat to U.S. national security). Indeed, during its quest for independence, tiny Greenland will struggle to balance the interests of the U.S., China and Denmark.
Greenland’s push for complete independence could nonetheless transform global power relations. Greenlanders see themselves as the bridge between North America and Europe (it is believed that North America and Europe were once connected by a vast strip of land that included Greenland), and will therefore, like both North America and Europe, limit Chinese influence. The current government wants to make English the second language in schools instead of Danish. However, in order to diversify economically, Greenland will increasingly cooperate with China, which believes an independent Greenland is imminent in the next decade. Most importantly, China is interested in Greenland for its proximity to the U.S. This means thatthe Arctic not only offers energy resources and a new trade route, but will also demand much more attention from U.S. policymakers in the coming years, as their rivals have not strengthened their presence this close to the American mainlandsince the Cuban Missile Crisis.