Trump's bid for Greenland

From a historical perspective, Trump’s attempt is certainly no joke, but today territories are no longer objects to be sold and bought by their ‘owners’. They are nations with their own people

So much for the notion of democracy being espoused by the current US President – the person who many used to call the leader of the free world
So much for the notion of democracy being espoused by the current US President – the person who many used to call the leader of the free world

I have already gone on record stating that Donald Trump’s so called ‘art of the deal’ is simply the aggressive stance adopted by some successful estate property negotiators all over the world.

A real estate baron before his turn to politics, Trump has a history of analysing geo-political issues through the lens of a property developer.

During his 2018 meeting with Kim Jong Un, for example, Trump spoke of the potential he sees for beach hotels and condos in North Korea.

I know quite well how these people work – not that we have many of them in Malta. It is not the world of most developers but we do have two or three hard-hitting property barons who know how to meanly swing from cajoling to aggressive stances in pursuit of their objective. And, by the way, Sandro Chetcuti is not one of them.

Applying this ‘technique’ to the world of diplomacy, as Trump is doing – has ruffled many feathers and the world is still to see whether it can be successful in international politics. Trump has hardly scored any points with North Korea, China or Mexico, but he still persists on following his ‘real estate instincts’ rather than taking the advice of seasoned diplomats.

This week Trump cancelled a state visit to Denmark after the nation’s Prime Minister said Greenland was not for sale. Indeed, after Trump had ‘suggested’ that the US was interested in buying Greenland, the Danish PM said that the idea was absurd with Trump reacting by calling her ‘nasty’.

Announcing the cancellation of his visit, Trump tweeted amongst things that as the Danish Prime Minister is not interested in discussing the purchase of Greenland, he will be postponing his meeting for another time.

All Danish politicians dismissed the idea. The foreign affairs spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, Soren Espersen, told the national broadcaster. “The thought of Denmark selling 50,000 citizens to the United States is completely ridiculous.”

Greenland – the largest island in the world – is an autonomous Danish territory, located between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans. It is actually nearer to the US than to Denmark.

At first the story was laughed off by some as a Trump ‘joke’ and his political adversaries depicted his bid for Greenland as Trump’s desperate gasp for a legacy of achievement – a way how he ensures he will be remembered positively in history. Otherwise, they insist, he will be just a small footnote in the history of the US.

This depiction is deceptive, at best.

Selling territories was not that strange, in the past. In a 2014 article, Joseph Blocher of Duke Law School pointed out that, historically, the market for territories was relatively robust: “The United States as we know it was shaped by land sales: the Louisiana Purchase, Alaska Purchase, and Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo together account for more than half of the nation’s landmass, and they are not the only territories whose sovereign control has been bought and sold.”

Under the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the US bought land in North America from France for $15 million. In 1867, the US bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. In 1917, the US bought the islands then known as the Danish West Indies from Denmark for $25 million and renamed them the Virgin Islands... which shows that in the past Denmark has been amenable to selling its territories.

Still, Denmark is apparently particularly attached to Greenland and has rejected all previous American attempts to purchase it. In a 1977 report, Danish historian Tage Kaarsted claimed that at a United Nations gathering in New York in 1946 – during Harry Truman’s presidency – the US secretary of state James Byrnes offered $100 million for the territory to Danish foreign minister Gustav Rasmussen. Previously, when Andrew Johnson was president, in 1867, the State Department had also inquired into buying Greenland and Iceland.

Greenland is considered important for American national security interests. The American Thule Air Base in Greenland, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is used by the US Air Force Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It includes a radar station that is part of a US ballistic missile early-warning system. More recently, Denmark stopped China from gaining a foothold on its territory by agreeing to co-fund the construction of two new airports that were going to be built by the Chinese.

Professor Rasmus Leander Nielsen of Greenland University insists that Denmark cannot sell Greenland because its home-rule law of 2009 “clearly states that Greenlanders are their own people.” Trump’s best hope would be for the territory to gain independence and then choose to join the US.

From a historical perspective, Trump’s attempt is certainly no joke, but today territories are no longer objects to be sold and bought by their ‘owners’. They are nations with their own people. In the current geo-political world, were Greenland to become part of the US, it would have to be a decision of the people of Greenland, and nobody else’s. The idea of Denmark selling Greenland to the US that would have been considered ‘normal’ even less than a century ago, is indeed absurd today.

But Trump is just a wily estate negotiator. He looked at the territory and asked to buy it, ignoring completely the wishes of the people of Greenland…

So much for the notion of democracy being espoused by the current US President – the person who many used to call the leader of the free world.

Baby Trump

Earlier this month, American actor Richard Gere and Italy’s then Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini clashed over migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The actor had delivered supplies to the NGO ship ‘Open Arms’, which was denied entry to the port of Lampedusa.

He explained: “I call Salvini ‘Baby Trump’. He uses the same radical ignorance, he exploits fear and hatred.”

Salvini responded by suggesting Gere take the migrants “back to Hollywood, on his private plane” and house them in his ‘villas’ – the standard reply of those who do not really bother about what happens to these human beings.

According to Gere, Salvini “sees politics as a pretext to boost his approval ratings.”

Since that clash, Salvini has – very babyishly – provoked the collapse of the Italian government that he was part of.

Whether Salvini will be hoisted by his own petard, is still to be seen.

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