While the American president suggested the idea of purchasing Greenland, this process has widely been used by the United States to enlarge its territory.
It is a classic of American history. To take over a territory rich in resources, the U.S. pulls out a wad of cash. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal revealed on Friday that Donald Trump asked his advisers if it was possible to buy Greenland from Denmark. An idea quickly turned down by Greenland’s government, which enjoys monetary and foreign policy autonomy from Denmark. It therefore declared that Greenland is “open to business but is not for sale.”
Even though the idea suggested by Trump was quickly mocked on social media, The Huffington Post reminds us that it is not as goofy as it seems. First of all, because it is not the first time that the U.S. has shown an interest in purchasing Greenland, a land highly coveted because of its oil resources, but mainly because of its rare earth metals. Second of all, throughout its history, Uncle Sam’s country was built by buying up several territories.
The Virgin Islands, Purchased 102 Years Ago from … Denmark
The U.S. bought Louisiana from France in 1804 for $15 million. Sixteen years later, they bought Florida from Spain, then California from Mexico in 1848 for $15 million, according to Le Figaro. The U.S. next acquired Arizona and New Mexico for $10 million before they purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. The country’s final acquisition dates back to 1917. One hundred and two years ago, it acquired the Virgin Islands and their 26,000 inhabitants for $25 million. That territory then belonged to Denmark.
Even though that practice has seemingly gone out of fashion in global foreign policy, the notion of buying Greenland is an old American idea. President Harry Truman offered Denmark either $100 million or an exchange of oil-rich Alaskan land in order to take possession of that gigantic Arctic island. At that time the U.S. president’s goal was to turn Greenland into a strategic military post. The purchasing idea eventually fell through, but the U.S. did end up building a military base on that Danish territory.
Renting Territories: The New Trend
The idea of the U.S. buying Greenland is therefore not so crazy, in fact. However, since 1945 the United Nations Charter has largely restricted this possibility by enacting the principle of forbidding [actors] “to infringe on a state’s territorial integrity” and the principle of self-determination, which posits that the people should be able to “decide on their own government.”
If the Republican president really wants to purchase Greenland, he should consult with the island’s 56,000 inhabitants. Knowing that 75.5% of them voted for stronger autonomy from Denmark, it’s uncertain that Trump’s consultation will be a great success.
However, there is now a new trend developing on the world stage. As Franceinfo explains, some states rent out whole portions of their territories to other countries so they can exploit their agricultural areas. South Korea has thus become in 2009 the first global land buyer, farming over 1 million hectares (3,861 square miles) of agricultural land in Madagascar. A practice also implemented by China in Africa. A trend that the U.S. could find of great interest in Greenland and that could allow them to exploit the island’s rare earth resources and finally compete with China in that area. A solution that would respect the Greenlanders' wishes: conducting business without talk of buying.