Professor Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen at UiT The Arctic University of Norway argues that the newly created advisory position should be seen in light of increased great power involvement on the island. The researcher says Copenhagen worries about being sidelined if the USA speaks with Greenland directly on security policy.
While the great powers show increased interest in the Arctic, including Greenland, Denmark strengthens its defense and security policy efforts in the region.
“We have seen a new security policy dynamic gain ground in the Arctic in recent years. There is increased interest in the region from many sides. It is thus decisive for the Danish Realm to be proactive in this new situation”, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs writes in an email to High North News.
“We will secure the necessary presence in the Arctic in light of this development, and create a better situational awareness in the region.”
The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently decided to send a political advisor to Greenland’s capital Nuuk. The advisor is to be located at the offices of the Arctic Command and is to secure security policy ties between Denmark and Greenland, according to Jyllandsposten.
Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen stresses to the paper that the creation of the advisor position has nothing to do with the fact that the USA recently reopened its consulate in Nuuk, which has been closed since 1953.
The envoy to Greenland comes along with a series of other Danish security policy initiatives in the Arctic.
Denmark’s Armed Forces recently established an InterForce office in Nuuk. The forces are to strengthen relations to Greenland’s business and society and have established the office for this purpose, according to Greenlandic daily Sermitsiaq.
The ambition is to have more Greenlanders become part of the armed forces and preparedness in a time of high interest in the Arctic, according to Greenland’s radio KNR.
It was also announced early this August that Denmark wants to re-establish the Airforce’s military radar station at the Faroe Islands, according to Sermitsiaq. The radar station is part of a capacity-building package worth DKK 1.5 billion that the Danish armed forces are to spend in the Arctic, the paper writes.
As for the political advisor, one can imagine that the main task will be to act as a chaperone.
“We are talking about extra ‘eyes and ears’ in the Arctic and the North Atlantic in the form of various forms of surveillance. Beyond contributing to peace and security, these capacities may also be used for civilian purposes such as for instance environmental monitoring and contributions in search and rescue”, the Danish MFA writes to High North News.
Worries about being sidelined
Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, Professor of Northern Studies and Barents Chair in Politics at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, argues that Copenhagen worries about being sidelined in security policy issues related to Greenland and that this is the reason why the Danish MoD establishes a political advisor position on the island.
Bertelsen points to how the USA keeps getting involved in Greenland.
“When the USA establishes a consulate in Nuuk, this causes concern in Denmark that the US Foreign Service will communicate directly with the political system in Greenland on foreign and security policy.”
“As for the political advisor, one can imagine that the main task will be to act as a chaperone to make sure the American consulate and the Government of Greenland do not talk directly about foreign and security policy, sidelining Copenhagen”, Bertelsen points out.
The USA has a massive strategic presence in Greenland as well as in the Arctic. For Denmark, there is thus also a question of being present because Greenland is a part of the Danish Realm, he adds. At the same time, it also has much to do with the internal independence dynamics within the Realm.
“The dynamics of independence and great power politics are so strong that Denmark cannot continue along the track it followed until recently where only Copenhagen manages foreign and security policies. The Danish government will have to find ways in which to include Greenland and the Faroe Islands without Denmark being sidelined”, the researcher says.
Great power interests
For the past half year, the USA has strengthened its involvement with the island, amongst others through the establishing of a consulate in Nuuk and an aid package of USD 12 million to Greenland.
Greenland is important to the USA because of its geostrategic location and in particular the Thule air force base, which was a giant warning radar during the Cold War and at present is an important missile defense radar, Bertelsen says.
Greenland has, however, also seen increased interaction with and investments from China.
“As the global competition between the USA, China and Russia intensifies, Greenland becomes more important because of its importance for the defense of North America and control of the North Atlantic. That is why the USA has reacted so strongly to the possibility of Chinese investments in Greenland”, Bertelsen says.
“It would be very problematic for the USA and for Denmark if Greenland were to achieve independence supported by Chinese investments. That is what the USA has reacted very strongly against.”
Camilla Sørensen, researcher at the Defense Academy in Copenhagen, writes on Alltinget that “the latest American strategic prioritizing of the Arctic, including the aid package to Greenland, is also primarily driven by fear of the Chinese entering. There is not much regard to Danish national interest nor to the preservation of the Realm, for that matter.”
The Danish MFA points out to High North News that there is agreement within the Realm that the USA increasing its engagement in the Arctic and the North Atlantic, including Greenland, is a positive thing.
“Greenland is geographically located close to the USA, and increased cooperation and economic ties between the USA and Greenland can thus only be seen as natural. The USA is our closes partner outside of Europe, and the USA along with NATO guarantees our security. We cooperate closely with Greenland’s government Naalakkersuisut about cooperation with the USA in Greenland, and an important focus for us is for the American engagement to benefit the population to the highest degree possible and for it to contribute to a positive development in Greenland.”
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Berqguist.