A source described as a “Trump ally” told the Associated Press that Donald Trump has talked to aides and allies about buying Greenland. The island is a Danish territory and was a critical piece of real estate during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
But its strategic significance has waned since the end of the competition with the Soviets, making Trump’s proposal — if he ever made it — seem a little bizarre.
The Danish government politely replied that the island was not for sale while the Danish people are treating it as a joke.
“We see it as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer,” the Greenland government said Friday in a short statement. “Of course, Greenland is not for sale.”
Reports that Trump had spoken about the notion of buying the land mass, which lies between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, were good for a laugh, residents said.
“He has nothing to do with Greenland,” said 28-year-old Martina M.D.D. Tay, who was born and raised in Tasiilaq, a coastal Greenland town of about 2,000 people. “I think it’s a ridiculous idea. I think it sounds stupid.”
Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who served as Danish prime minister until June, weighed in on social media, tweeting “it must be an April Fool’s Day joke” that was out of season.
Trump isn’t the first president to express an interest in buying Greenland. President Andrew Johnson actually commissioned a report to explore the possibility. And Harry Truman made serious overtures to the Danish government in 1946.
By 1946, “practically every member” of the planning and strategy committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that the United States should try to buy Greenland, John Hickerson, a State Department official, wrote in a memo. The consensus among the group was that the territory was “completely worthless to Denmark,” he reported, and “indispensable to the safety of the United States.”
Denmark had other thoughts on the matter. After floating the proposal at the December 1946 meeting in New York, Secretary of State James Byrnes wrote in a telegram that his overture “seemed to come as a shock” to Danish Foreign Minister Gustav Rasmussen. The small Scandinavian nation likely could have used the money, but it also had its pride.
It didn’t matter in the end. The U.S. negotiated a deal in 1951 with Denmark that allowed a huge American airbase to be constructed near the Arctic Circle. Thule Air Force Base was considered the first line of defense against a possible Soviet attack.
It’s not possible to gauge how serious the president’s intentions were, or why he might have wanted to purchase the island. The provenance of the story is, in my mind, suspect, and like many stories about Trump behind the scenes, must be taken with a huge grain of salt.
Still, if it is true, it would be the mother of all deals for the deal maker. There are tens of billions of dollars in mineral wealth in Greenland that we currently can’t exploit because of the remoteness of the deposits and the difficulty of extracting the wealth in the subzero temperatures. But ten years from now, any amount paid for Greenland might be seen as a bargain.