U.S. moves to develop closer ties with Greenland


The United States recently announced U.S. $10 million in economic aid for Greenland — the latest sign that the world’s biggest island plays an increasingly crucial role in Arctic affairs.

The aid package agreed to September 15, 2021, is primarily aimed at developing mining, tourism and education, Reuters reported. The U.S. is seeking to forge closer ties with Greenland to counter the commercial and military buildup in the region by Russia and China, Reuters said.

The island, which has a population of 57,000, is an autonomous Danish territory. It has long been home to Thule Air Base, the northernmost U.S. military installation. Thule, a U.S. Space Force base, operates a missile warning system and conducts space and satellite surveillance. U.S. combat aircraft deployed there in March 2021 as part of an international Arctic exercise.

“This is not a big amount, but symbolically it’s very important,” Pele Broberg, Greenland’s minister for business and trade, told Reuters about the aid deal.

As climate change melts the ice that covers 80% of the island, leading to increased demand for Greenland’s reserves of rare-earth minerals used in batteries and many electronic devices, according to an October 1, 2021, story in The New York Times newspaper.

“China has a near monopoly on these minerals. The realization that Greenland could be a rival supplier has set off a modern gold rush,” the Times story said.

The aid comes in the wake of a U.S. $12.1 million package announced by Washington in 2020, which drew criticism from Copenhagen over concerns that it would create division between Greenland and Denmark, according to Reuters. The U.S. also opened a consulate in Greenland in 2020.

Greenland elected a new government in April 2021 that has pledged to halt a Chinese-backed mining project because it contains radioactive uranium, Reuters reported. The project was touted for the potential economic benefits it would bring to the tiny economy, which relies on fishing as its main industry. China is now Greenland’s largest market for seafood exports, according to a May 2021 story in the Foreign Service Journal magazine.

“It has some ripple effects to say no to uranium mining, but we think there are other areas that can be developed, and that is what we will look into with the Americans,” Broberg told Reuters.

Prime Minister Mute Egede told Time magazine on May 19, 2021, that he hopes the U.S. might be spurred to invest more as China, Russia and the European Union vie for Greenland’s natural resources.

“The Greenlandic people want more growth than just that military base,” Egede told Time, referring to Thule Air Base.

Greenland, whose tiny capital, Nuuk (pictured in September 2021), is closer to New York than to Copenhagen, relies on annual grants of U.S. $600 million from Denmark, according to Reuters.

“We don’t get the support from Denmark we need to be able to thrive,” Broberg told Reuters. “So now we try to go our own ways, without Denmark, and we’re starting small.”