Greenland Wants to Take the Lead: "We Have to Pick the Right Friends"

Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, Arctic Circle 2021.

"Nothing with us without us". Greenland politician Aaja Chemnitz Larsen lets the message be heard on stage at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, October 2021. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

“The focus on Greenland has increased and with that, conflict”, says Danish MP Aaja Chemnitz Larsen (IA) to High North News.

With a sharper focus on Greenland follows more international interest in the Arctic island, which is rich in natural resources. Greenland politician Aaja Chemnitz Larsen argues that it is the people of the Arctic who should get to choose the path onwards.

“The focus on Greenland has increased, and with that, conflict”, Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, Member of the Danish Parliament for Inuit Ataqatigiit explaines to High North News.

She is talking about the risk of conflict about both environmental, economic and cultural security issues in Greenland.

“We have to look at the politics, with increased interest from China, Russia and the US. And with collaboration amongst multiple players in the region”.

Peace is key

While being small players, Iceland and Greenland find themselves to be right at the center of recent changes in the region. And to Greenland, peace is key.

“More than 10 years ago we signed the Peace Declaration in Greenland (The Ilulissat Declaration signed by the five coastal states of the Arctic Ocean. Red), and together we have kept the promises that we gave to each other at the time. We have kept the commitment for peace in the Arctic region”, Larsen says.

“At the same time, we need to increase capacity and knowledge about foreign affairs. Thus, a new contact committee between Greenland, Denmark and the Faroe islands has been established recently and will increase Greenland’s access to confidential knowledge”, Larsen explains.

Greenland will also play a key role when it comes to the Arctic Council on behalf of the Kingdom of Denmark.

“We insist on a more equal role within the Realm. A long-term goal is to have even more research on foreign affairs issues in Greenland; not only on climate change, but also on security issues and international politics”, said the Greenlandic MP, and adds the now somewhat famous quote;

Nothing about us without us.”

It was a wakeup call for the world.

Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, Member of the Danish Parliament for Inuit Ataqatigiit

Wake-up call

It is obvious that something has shifted in Greenland over the past few years. The politicians are more well-educated and participate on international arenas.

The new focus was brought on by then-US President Donald Trump, who famously declared that he wanted to buy Greenland.

“It was a wake-up call for the world. The website Visit Greenland actually crashed during that time. Everybody wanted to see what Greenland was about”, Aaja Chemnitz Larsen reminisces.

For Greenland, it opened up a series of opportunities and choices.


“It is important to forward our own interests for the future. We want businesses that are not only based on fisheries – which  makes up about 95 percent of our industry today. But we also want green energy, mining and tourism”, the politician states.

She mentions the valuable collaboration with Iceland as an example.

On 20 January, the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a report with 99 recommendations for strengthened cooperation between Greenland and Iceland.

“We are going to follow up on the recommendations”, says Larsen.

We might see Greenlandic representation at the tables of NATO and the Arctic Council.

Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, Member of the Danish Parliament for Inuit Ataqatigiit

The report was made by an Icelandic Greenland Committee that was appointed by the Icelandic Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2019. The committee was tasked with analyzing current bilateral relations as well as identifying areas for further cooperation.

Among the recommendations were free trade between Greenland and Iceland, and new shipping routes.

Independent nation

“There is no doubt that in Greenland, we truly appreciate the good collaboration that we have with Iceland and we want to see it strengthened,” Aaja Chemnitz Larsen says.

She adds that many Greenlanders are fascinated by Iceland and would like to see Greenland as an independent nation.

“I do not see that happening anytime soon, though. It has to be well planned and it is a process”.

Although she is happy with the rise in education and focus on the Greenlandic language, Larsen fears that the development is going too slow and that Greenland might lose its momentum.

She says Greenland should be a part of everything that concerns it.

“We will might see Greenlandic representation at the tables of NATO and the Arctic Council, to make sure we focus on low tension. Peace is important to us and we have to pick the right friends. And NATO is important”.

A seat in NATO

She is supported by former Vice Premier and Minister for Social Affairs, Families, Gender Equality and Justice in Greenland, Sara Olsvig, who earlier this autumn said that Greenland should differentiate very clearly between a relationship to NATO and a relationship to the USA.

Marc Lanteigne and Sara Olsvig.

Marc Lanteigne and Sara Olsvig attendet the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik October 2021, where security issues in Greenland were on the table. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Marc Lanteigne and Sara Olsvig attendet the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik October 2021, where security issues in Greenland were on the table. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

“There is a big task ahead of us. For instance: still today, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is more or less inaccessible for Greenlandic MP's unless they are a member of the Danish parliament. If NATO wants to develop its relationship with the Arctic, why not make sure that the MP's of the peoples of the Arctic are also at the table?” Olsvig said during a Greenland security panel at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland back in October.

She said Greenland has shown that it can conduct defense policies and security issues by itself.

“The new Greenlandic government is more clear about de-militarization. The people of Greenland does not want more militarization of the Arctic. We have seen the Cold War and the limitations that put on the region”, said Olsvig.

She urges the Greenlandic government to be careful to debate the role of NATO in the Arctic.

“Yes, in Norway it is natural, but should it be the same in Iceland and Greenland? I say no. For NATO, it is important to differentiate between the Atlantic and the Arctic”, stated Olsvig, who is currently a Ph.D. Fellow at Ilisimatusarfik - the University of Greenland.

Non-Arctic players

Associate Professor Marc Lanteigne at the University of Tromsø - the Arctic University of Norway is a specialist in Political Science at the Department of Social Sciences.

He sat alongside Olsvig and Larsen during the Greenland panel at the Arctic Circle and agrees that the Arctic has become an international concern. So where do non-Arctic states fit into the scenario?

“Many have begun to express themselves on Arctic issues. Like the UK, France, the EU and Germany. Can they contribute? And are we prepared for the fact that more non-Arctic players want a say?” Lanteigne asked.

There is a historic reason why  the US is present in Greenland.

Sara Olsvig, Ph.D.-fellow, Ilisimatusarfik - the University of Greenland

“There is a big gray zone in decision-making between Greenland and Denmark”, Sarah Olsvig replied and added that the biggest difference between Iceland and Greenland when it comes to security issues is the fact that Iceland is a sovereign state.

Something that Greenland is now working towards.

The US reason

“There is definitely something going on in which Greenland is increasingly recognized as an actor, also by the US, however, we must remember that there is a historic reason why the US is present in Greenland. Like Thule Air Base and the defense agreements from 1941 and 1951, where Greenland did not take part in [establishing] these agreements with the US”, Olsvig reminds us.

“So, there has been a long struggle for Greenland to find and pave its way to the table and to become a direct partner to the US”.

For MP Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, the past two years have been extremely busy – and fun.

"It has been so much more busy, the past two years since Trump wanted to buy Greenland. It has been crazy for us. So it is important to have a solid foreign affairs policy going forward. Greenland must take the lead in making a shift into the world”, Larsen states.

And says in closing;

“It is also very interesting and fun to be a politician now”.

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