Can the US Buy Greenland? Spoiler Alert: Probably Not

Greenland has been making headlines this week for a very strange reason. U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to purchase the island. The seriousness of the proposal is yet to be determined, but Twitter and politicians alike have had a field day with the announcement.

Here is everything you need to know about Greenland and the probability of it becoming a U.S. territory. Spoiler alert: The probability is very, very low—almost nonexistent.

Who Owns Greenland?

While we think that ultimately, a country belongs to the people who call it home, Greenland is officially an autonomous, yet Danish, dependent territory. This means that while Greenland has its own parliament and a certain level of sovereignty, it is still part of Denmark. About two-thirds of Greenland’s revenue comes from Denmark, and the country must adhere to the Danish constitution.

Therefore, while the question, “Who owns Greenland?” is a bit complicated, the easy answer is Denmark. However, the complicated nature of Greenland’s autonomy means that Denmark might not necessarily have the power to “sell” the territory. In fact, Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has stated that not only is Greenland not for sale, “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland,” demonstrating the recognition she has of the importance of cultural and political sovereignty.

Can Trump Really Buy It?

As this is a first in both modern-day politics and real estate, it is difficult to discern who can do what. However, considering international laws and norms over colonialism and the absolute right of a sovereign country over its own territory, no, Trump cannot buy Greenland. Even if buying parts of foreign countries were a normal and accepted thing to do, it seems Denmark is not in the market to sell.

In fact, Trump cancelled a trip to Denmark after Frederiksen said that his proposal was “absurd.” Trump has described the purchase of an autonomous country as “a large real estate deal,” suggesting that he has not considered the cultural and social implications of such a suggestion.

Why Does Trump Want Greenland?

While some see it as ridiculous, the Trump administration looks at the purchase of Greenland as a smart geopolitical move. The position of Greenland, in between the United States and Europe, could be strategically advantageous. Additionally, China has shown interest in the area, as a state-owned construction company proposed to build new airports on the island last year.

Additionally, Greenland is rich in minerals such as zinc, copper, coal and iron ore. Overall, the president is looking at Greenland as an asset that will aid him in his political war against China and as global warming continues to melt the ice caps on Greenland (which currently cover about 80 percent of the country), shipping routes and mining opportunities could expand in the area.

What are the Danes Saying?

Many Danes were very unhappy about the initial request and are even unhappier about the subsequent cancelled trip, which they had all been preparing for. Some members of parliament (MPs) and political party representatives turned to Twitter or generated press releases to discuss their thoughts on the subject.

Danish conservative MP Rasmus Jarlov called Trump’s move “insulting” and asked if parts of the United States were for sale before requesting that the president “please show more respect.” Similarly, Pernille Skipper, a spokeswoman for the leftist Red-Green Alliance said, “Trump lives on another planet. Self-sufficient and disrespectful,” according to a BBC article.

A Danish royal expert and historian called the situation “very strange” and said, “This is a violation of all traditions and etiquettes and makes it seem like the Trump administration views state visits in a completely different way,” according to the BBC.

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