Would An Independent Greenland Be Welcome In NAFTA?

For now, Greenland is an autonomous island whose foreign affairs are handled by Denmark, its colonial power. A tiny population of 60,000 people, about 89% of whom are Inuit (Eskimo), lives mostly in a collection of small villages on the coast of Greenland [1]. The economy of Greenland, for now, is dependent on fishing and on the public sector, including a yearly subsidy of $650 million from Denmark that takes care of 60% of Greenland’s (comparatively) massive public sector. Make no mistake, Greenland is perhaps the most territorially massive welfare state in the world, and it is possible that the subsidy from Denmark is the only thing keeping Greenland under Denmark’s rule, as Greenland’s politics are dominated by two parties that want increased autonomy and independence (Inuit Ataquatagiit, a pro-independence party, got 43.7% in their last election in 2009, and a party in favor of greater autonomy, Siumut, got another 26.5%).

It is easy to forget that Greenland is actually an inhabited country, given its large ice caps, its complete absence of arable land, and the fact that the frozen northern reaches are not a focus of our international attention. Nonetheless, change seems to be coming gradually to Greenland that promises increased interest among commodities traders, if not the average person. There is growing interest in exploration for oil and natural gas reserves in the coastal areas as well as northern and northeastern Greenland. In addition, Greenland’s ample hydroelectric energy reserves have caused increased interest in Greenland for aluminum smelting, and there is also some mining in Southern Greenland for gold and other minerals. In addition to this Southern Greenland is becoming an increasingly sought-after tourist destination in cruises during the (probably short) summer tourist season. Greenland has possibility of shaking off its dependence on fishing and on handouts from Denmark.

If this does manage to happen, where Greenland can become economically self-sufficient, independence would almost certainly quickly follow, given that the mood of Greenlanders themselves is already pro-independence even in these hard times. Greenland has border squabbles with Canada, Norway, and Russia over continental shelf boundaries, and Denmark is far from a mighty nation able to defend Greenland’s interests, even if Greenland’s population on its own is feeble and its only possible military ship a single passenger merchant marine ship. Clearly, Greenland is not a military power, whatever its military potential.

Nonetheless, if Greenland is found to have substantial natural gas and crude oil reserves, which is a very real possibility at this point, then Greenland becomes much more interesting as a trade partner. Given that it is currently ruled by a European power whose relationship with the EU is a bit distant (like most Scandinavian countries), it appears that Greenland could easily make a common cause with Canada and the United States (resolving the border disputes), and align with its more natural North American neighbors rather than remain tied to a minor European nation that is not even a part of the Euro zone. And would a Greenland that has large natural gas and crude oil reserves and a large amount of fresh water in the world’s second largest ice cap be welcome in NAFTA? Absolutely.

The reasons why it makes sense to care a great deal about Greenland, despite its extremely small population is its geographic position. The Arctic Ocean has seen a lot of melting recently, and it is possible that there may soon be year round free areas in the Arctic Sea for ships to pass through. This gives nations like Russia, the United States (through Alaska), Canada, Norway, and potentially Greenland a great advantage by being able to control those trade routes for its own economic benefit. Any development of Arctic territory allows for nations to take advantage of supply routes and the geopolitical games that inevitably follow trade. Greenland has an advantageous position in such an environment, only needing freedom and some strong allies to secure its position.

And right now there are really only two options to support Greenland’s interests. Both Norway and Denmark are on the periphery of Europe, not integrated strongly into Europe’s economic and security network, instead part of a “Nordic Group.” Greenland might be willing to join such a group, though it has little manpower to offer and a large deal of territory and territorial waters to protect, which might be a liability for a group as small as the Nordic Group (less so for a larger European group which had greater manpower). On the other hand, the United States and Canada has no shortage of manpower, they are close by geographically, and Greenland would make an excellent ally for both of them especially if it had energy reserves (which would allow the United States to rely less on nations like Venezuela and Middle Eastern nations with corrupt monarchies and dictatorships).

For now, though, this only remains in the realm of possibility and counterfactual speculation. Nonetheless, we would do well to ponder the possibilities for the future, in the understanding that obscure parts of the world can play major roles in world affairs, and even very sparsely populated areas of the world can have a huge influence if they possess greatly desirable resources. We ought therefore to pay attention to Greenland from time to time [2], aware that it has major potential to become a new nation [3] with considerable economic importance to the world despite its miniscule population. And that alone makes Greenland worthy of attention from time to time.

[1] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gl.html

[2] http://nathanalbright.blogspot.com/2006/07/next-oil-sheikdom.html

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/new-country-watch-list/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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16 Responses to Would An Independent Greenland Be Welcome In NAFTA?

  1. Culturally & ethnically, Greenland’s population is closer to that of Canada’s Inuit (primarily located in autonomous areas like Nunavut) and the Alaska Natives. These groups have the ability to lobby their respective federal governments for large foreign aid grants. Over time, as Greenland develops it’s own resources and economy, it’s need for an outside subsidy will diminish. Through NATO, Greenland has had important military ties to the US & Canada (Thule Air Base is the most notable example). Additionally, the people most likely to immigrate to Greenland to work in its nascent industries will come from Canada & the United States.

    Were Greenland to become an independent polity, it would go from being a protectorate of Denmark to a joint-protectorate of the United States & Canada (a condominium?). It is in Greenland’s interest to settle its border issues in order to integrate into NAFTA and receive aid packages from its wealthier neighbors. Canada & the US, in turn, would gain what you just said, a stable trade partner with a democratic legal system.

    • Indeed, I am impressed that you too are a student of Greenland’s history and culture. And that is precisely right. At this point Greenland is going to need aid, but as a stable country with a lot of space and close ethnic and cultural ties with the United States and Canada it would be natural for the North Americans to take a larger role in its development, as the people of Greenland themselves appear unwilling to remain as colonists of Denmark. For those who think the age of colonialism is over and done with, Greenland is a useful (and often neglected) counterexample. I don’t think Canada and Greenland have insoluble border conflicts–it is mainly over a single single Island in the Baffin Strait between the two areas, which could be easily settled by arbitration assuming that both sides were interested in a closer alliance with each other.

  2. Pingback: Would An Independent Greenland Be Welcome In NAFTA? | Edge … | NAINTELX

  3. Jeffrey Hughes says:

    As a kid in Junior High, I used to obsess over Greenland in our 1957 World Book Encyclopedias (this was in 1982is to 84ish, so the information was bit outdated). It wasn’t just Greenland but the lack of acceptance that there were other nations in North America other than the big three, US, Canada, and Mexico. I would point out that we had France right in our back yard with St Pierre et Miquelon. I would pester on about the Caribbean Islands and little ol’ Bermuda, way out by itself; though Greenland, always had a little place in my heart. My Social Studies teacher would just roll his eyes. When NAFTA came around it reignited my argument for recognition for the other nations of North America and with the advent or rather ubiquity of the internet I would search out other “crusaders”. I just happened upon your article and felt it was spot on! Thank you!

    • I’m glad that you share my interest in somewhat obscure areas, and I’m glad that you appreciate my musing on Greenland, as it is worth the occasional discussion as a reminder that another giant (potential) nation exists in North America, even if it is not well known aside from being cold.

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