10 years ago, then Premier of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist, was at the helm when the Act on Greenland Self Government entered into force. To mark this anniversary, High North News met Kleist for an exclusive interview about Greenland’s national development and the recent Arctic security changes. In this first part of the interview, Kleist reflects on the present and potential consequences of Greenland’s geostrategic position in the wake of Trump’s idea of purchasing the world’s biggest island.
Can the Government of Greenland use the increased international Arctic attention to its own benefit?
"Only if it handles the attention actively instead of acting as a passive commentator on the side line, which I think all of us have been doing. The problem is that Trump’s idea of buying Greenland has stolen the regional agenda so we are now merely watching while - once again - Greenland is at the centre of great power struggles over the Arctic like it was during the Cold War. It is very uncomfortable, I must say."
"The Americans have obliviously found out that they apparently have reduced their armaments in the Arctic too much. Specifically, in Greenland they have shut down many bases and airports. Now they are then showing interest in helping to extend our infrastructure. That sounds nice, right? In reality, the Americans are saying: “Ups, we scaled down our armaments too much in Greenland. May we rebuild some of it?”. The reason for that is the so-called Chinese threat. But where the heck are the Chinese? They are nowhere!"
So can the Government of Greenland use the attention to finance the construction of new airports?
"The question is if one wishes to receive financing as part of that agenda. What is it that one in fact is selling? One is selling the soul to the devil."
What do you think will be the United States’ next move?
"The US have announced that they will establish an embassy-like representation with nothing less than seven employees here in Nuuk. That is a lot!"
The question is if one wishes to receive financing as part of that agenda. What is it that one in fact is selling? One is selling the soul to the devil.
"It is also already part of the plans to upgrade the Thule Air Base. Additionally, they are interested in other kinds of infrastructure elsewhere in the country, but it is not yet crystal clear what exactly. It could be new airstrips with both military and civilian purposes in Kangerlussuaq, Nuuk, Ilulissat, and/or Qaqortoq. That is not what we need. It is not at all in the interest of Greenland as far as I am concerned."
Do you think that this recent development is just caused by Donald Trump’s approach to international politics?
"I believe one should be very cautious about how the global power relations are currently in a period of transition. Things are dislocating. I cannot predict how they will later be more sedimented but it is evident that there are movements and constant positioning where some are very vocal, others excel by almost being invisible, while yet others are more silent than they should be."
Who is that?
"It is all those who encourage the civilian rather than the military agenda. I was astounded how easy it was for the Americans to get them on board the Cold War wagon again. The times indicate that in a situation like this, Greenland should - together with Denmark and the other states in the Arctic Council - make sure that one is acting more cool-headed and not just unconsciously join the new agenda which Trump has introduced. If there is something we do not need, that is it. The Cold War has been re-introduced in Greenland which is now a battlefield for great power struggles. It is necessary that others assert themselves."
Greenland holds significant mineral deposits which, reportedly, is also centre of great external interests. Is that also of relevance to the renewed American interest in being more present in Greenland?
"Well, in my capacity as consultant to the Australian mining company Tanbreez, I have met with the US ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, who expressed interest in rare earth elements which China currently has a kind of world monopoly on."
"The US Government, including the Department of Defense, is occupied with so-called strategic minerals which are considered to have a significance to the position of the American defence. So yes, it should also be seen in that light."
"Since she took office in Copenhagen, Sands has visited Greenland several times. On one of her visits, she brought a delegation to see the two major mineral projects in Southern Greenland: The Tanbreez project at Killavaat Alannguat, and the Kuannersuit-project owned by Australian GME and General Nice Group, a Chinese company which holds 12,5 percent of the project ownership with option to increase to 62 percent. Both deposits contain rare earth elements while the Kuannersuit project also contains uranium."
"The visit was a follow up to the newly signed agreement between the Government of Greenland and the US Geological Survey on hyperspectral imaging in the mapping of mineral deposits. This is a story within the story about the Americans in Greenland."
So China is not scared off by the Americans since they are investing in Greenlandic mining projects?
"I do not think it is possible to scare off the Chinese. They have some very different perspectives and another culture than the Americans. They are way more patient, move below the radar and do their businesses nice and easy."
In what way?
"For instance, they buy a license to a giant iron ore deposit and then they put the license to sleep. It is nothing like: “Now we want our investment back!”. No, instead it is ”nice and easy” and then suddenly one day will come when it is strategically interesting to make use of this license. I do not think that the ripples on the surface is something that affect the Chinese considerably. In contrast, the Americans have a fiery president."