President Trump is brash as ever, but he’s not wrong. Greenland is important.
Pull out your polar map. There’s Russia, spanning one side of the Arctic circle, with China nestled below. On the North American side lies Canada and Alaska. That over-the-pole route is the shortest flight path for Russian and Chinese intercontinental missiles and bombers.
Greenland is in position like the shortstop on a baseball diamond. Anything inbound to Canada and the U.S. goes right by or over Greenland. Greenland, population 57,000, is very, very strategic. This is why the United States Air Force has run early warning operations at Thule Air Base (pronounced TOOL-ee) since the 1950s. With China and Russia building new missiles, you can see why Greenland has caught the commander in chief’s attention.
So if we are all finished snickering about condos, here are three military reasons the U.S. should, indeed, pay more attention to Greenland – and get out the greenbacks.
Greenland’s polar lookout. The Arctic is a “potential vector for attack on the U.S. homeland” as the Pentagon said in its June 2019 Arctic Strategy report to Congress. OK, we’ve known that for decades. Thule has harsh weather but radars don’t care. Greenland hosts important early warning radar sites because its field of view covers so much of the bomber and missile flight route from Russia and China. The U.S. military also prizes sites for its runway, ground-based communications and the ice-free port.
Space control. This is not science fiction. Greenland is home to the 12th Space Warning Squadron, which runs the early warning radars, and a detachment of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron. This is a newer mission, where Air Force personnel track and keep in contact with low-Earth orbiting satellites. They call their mission “space situation awareness” and it’s all the more important now that China is challenging the U.S. in space. The Greenland operation is a key part of monitoring what’s going on up there in orbit.
Keeping China out. China has no Arctic territory, but in 2018, China declared itself an Arctic nation anyway. China wants Arctic access and is trying to buy its way in. Greenland would do nicely. Last year, a Chinese company cut a deal to construct three 10,000-foot runways in Greenland. Denmark killed the deal, citing security concerns.
The problem is not going away. China is looking for any opportunity to squeeze out the U.S. with strategic investments in countries all around the globe. Picking off Greenland would be a coup for Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump knows this, so the media furor over “buying Greenland” is also a message to China that the U.S. won’t tolerate Chinese inroads there.
Remember how China militarized small terrain features in the South China Sea. If China operated three 10,000-foot runways in Greenland, China could sneak in enough people and equipment to take over. Can you imagine the military scenario of trying to kick the Chinese out? Not good, as our president likes to tweet. No wonder Trump inquired about buying Greenland outright.
Unfortunately, the president caused a commotion by putting off his Denmark visit. That was rude. Copenhagen has been at odds with the self-rule Greenlandic government over new uranium mining, the Chinese airport project, the Chinese “science station” project, fishing export sanctions and more. So far, Denmark has backed up U.S. and NATO interests and good relations with Denmark are crucial.
However, Trump is right to think long-term about Greenland. Greenland does matter to American national security.
Certainly, Greenland should get more U.S. investment. Thule is far north of most of Greenland’s population centers. The Chinese airport project appealed because it would have brought huge economic benefits.
Trump claimed the “carrying cost” of Greenland was $770 million per year. That’s a math error in the Pentagon budget. Given the strategic importance of Greenland, it should be U.S. dollars and U.S. firms investing. A wise U.S. policy respecting Greenlandic self-rule and Danish responsibilities would be money very well spent.
Is there a GoFundMe for that? I’d donate.