Is Greenland at risk of being trapped in a security vacuum?

A triangular challenge: Greenland, Denmark and USA

Portræt af Mikael Hertig

Mikael Hertig (c) april 2017

Af Mikael Hertig *
      Foto af sne med solstrejf


The Greenlandic-Danish relationship is, under auspices of the former colonial status under pressure for many reasons. First of all, a majority of the Greenlanders want sovereignty when the economic conditions are fulffilled. From a Danish point of view, it has been anticipated that an extra submssive small state behavior should give Denmark a special status because of the OST relation to Greenland as Danish territory in terms of foreign policy. However, the Trump desire to buy Greenland trumphed that point of view down for good. Greenland has not until now tried to fomulate any own Greenlandi security politic. The efforts are very premature. This leaves both Greenland and Denmark in a loophole while tensions in the Arctic grow steadily. The conclusion is that Denmark should give room for developing a Greenlandic security policy while changing its own attitude to a "decolonization of minds" attidude to Greenland.      


Today, Greenland is an OST under "Kingdom of Denmark". (Denmark, The Faroe Islands and Greenland). The former status as colony was given up by a change of constitution in 1953. According to the UN charter, it was not allowed Denmark to own colonies. At the referendum, the Greenlandic People did not take part.   Greenland has no own formulated security policy strategy. Denmark, in its part,  has underestimated its military obligations in relation to Greenland for years, so that the  Danish government is not sufficiently capable of defending the territory in its Arctic possessions. In light of the rising tension in the Arctic, this has meant that the United States has had to look compelled to take action, elegant or not. But this has left Denmark in a position where the so-called  "Greenland card" has lost its value. The meaning of "The Greenland Card" is that Denmark because of the Arctic posession should obtain special attention and influence in Washington. Researcher Ulrik Pram Gad has assumed that the value of Denmark's post-colonial ownership would increase or decrease proportionally with the degree of tension in the Arctic. The assumption does not seem to hold: Danish courtesy through activist foreign policy plays no major role under Trump, and it is a question of whether it will ever come to that. In the coming years, Denmark must try to gain a better position through participation in the reconstruction, and through a continued marked improvement in the relationship between the Copenhagen and Nuuk governments.
Boligblokke i det moderne Nuuk

Qinngorput, Nuuk


  Greenland is in the process of becoming fully independent (1) and thus withdrawing from the union  "Kingdom of Denmark" (2) since the last constitutional amendment in 1953 (3). However, it is also a Greenlandic dilemma whether the direction should be a liberation of the population and the political system, or simply a commitment to formal sovereignty. (4)  
Map of Greenland in northern circumpolar

Kortet viser Grønlands geografiske placering


Towards an independent Greenlandic security policy?

    Today,  Greenlandic has no separate  security and foreign policy. Although Greenland has representatives in Brussels, Reykjavik and Washington, the Nuuk autonomy has not formulated a coherent Greenlandic policy. It has been accepted that over Greenland territory and the defense of it is solely a matter for the government of Copenhagen (3) . The limit of the Authority's competence goes to matters outside of security and foreign policy. If there is any doubt as to where the content boundary for security and foreign policy goes after developments since mid-2019, it may be worthwhile, on the one hand, by looking at both the Faroe Islands and Huawei (5), and the license of a Chinese company to when driving uranium mining in Greenland. Although it appears in articles in the Danish News Paper "Ekstra Bladet", the decisions to choose or opt out of Huawei as a critical infrastructure provider (5G) should formally lie in the governments of Thorshavn and Nuuk, followed by no doubt the major countries and whether their telecommunications companies have been subject to and shown political pret under the radar of Copenhagen. On the other hand, it appears that a Chinese-owned company is granted exclusive permission to extract Uranium in the mine at the Kvanefjeld near Narsaq in Greenland. (6) The internal political debate and the political internal discussion on the extraction of Uranium in principle have had no security or foreign policy content. Interested in the rather exciting change of course from no to yes is, among other things, writing in an excellent university special (7). There has been a trend towards greater formula handling and freedom of supply. None of us knows whether lower or upper case letters have been spoken. I think the gray zone between hard foreign and security policy and palms in the customary interpretation of self-government and state-community policy is worth noting, there is some new inclusiveness - at least formally. Greenland has not saved any new in-depth debate on security, defense or foreign policy issues. Since Donald Trump announced in the summer of 2019 that he wanted to buy Greenland, the strange question arose: Who would be a seller if Greenland were to be sold to the United States? This gave rise to an internal - somewhat premature - debate in Greenland about who and independent Greenland would prefer to join (Russia, USA, China ?). Debates could be sidelined with the impression that Greenland itself could choose relatively freely. The Government of Greenland has no clear security policy strategy over or under the radar. I find this problematic and call on Naalakkersuisut (Government of Greenland) for the development and such within the next few years. I can note that context, by expertise can be bought from the outside, so that wording processes can have a somewhat well-meant aim. The consequence is, in the dialogue to further develop a great deal of weight from Danish expertise, which will inevitably shape Danish, not Greenlandic views. The long-term dilemma of the former colonial formulation of their own interest in a political context is addressed in articles: (8) “What if the subaltern speaks?

Flags in opposite directions, Nuuk
Marine Duc (c) marts 2017


Greenland as a part of America ?

Kort over USA,Canada og Grønland

Kort over Grønland sammen med Canada og Alaska (National Geographic 1947).

    Geographically, the large Greenlandic island lies on the North Atlantic continental shelf (9). The location of the Thule Radar in northwestern Greenland is of significant military importance to the United States, offensively as well as defensively (10). Geography  implies that Greenland belongs to the US and Canada's strategic sphere of interest (11) in the same way that Cuba militarily does, or Crimea does for Russia. Similarly, the dispute over islands in the South China Sea can be seen as a question of the islands' affiliation with Western countries or China's sphere of interest. Geography also deals with the supply obligation in peacetime. Since the first years of the colonial period, there has been an understanding between Denmark and the Greenlandic settlements ("Colonies") that the population became more settled than before for supplies from Denmark. (12) Today, the supply obligation still exists, although not in the same way as before 1953. World War II prevented Denmark from supplying Greenland with groceries, after which, during that period, the provision was taken over by the United States, which in turn via US Ambassador Henrik Kauffmann on behalf of Denmark, the US granted the right to build military bases in Greenland. At the same time, the United States also defended Greenland against German attempts to penetrate the country.  

The relaxed Danish defense of Greenlandic territory

    Danish security policy has, to varying degrees, since the system change to parliamentarism  in 1901, been characterized by a form of petty state political understanding, where the traditional ability to defend the territory was not really the key. Either Denmark tried to remain neutral as up to World War II, or through the alliance with the US and NATO, it tried to keep its own contribution as low as possible. The will to defense was widely understood as a right-wing, national-conservative project. Should it come to any kind of military conflict again, Denmark would just have to lie down, no matter which side should face upwards. Following the collapse of the USSR in 1989, a decade of further disarmament followed. The introduction of the defense reservation in 1993 can be very well seen in this context as well. Since that time, Denmark has probably invested in new fighter aircraft. As stated to me, the F35 in the requested form cannot land at the small existing airports in Greenland, although there are models built to land on aircraft carriers. The missing charts are exposed once in oblivion, as it was more important for a  right wing government to make a transfer of geodetic expertise to Aalborg from Copenhagen. It turned out that the experts were lost for good. The sonar system has been abolished. The submarines have been taken out of the Navy and the latest Ice Breakers have been put up for sale or scrapped. The number of vessels under the Arctic command is modest. The most important discussion about the role of Danish defense in Greenland has been on whether Greenlandic flags should also be on the sledge patrol Sirius' patrol leather in Northeastern Greenland. Denmark does not have the capacity to defend Greenland militarily now or in the future. Military security over Greenland is based on bilateral agreements with the United States and perhaps in the future Canada. The supply routes from Greenland to Denmark continue to have commercial significance for Denmark, but in the event of armed conflict will be cut off again. Greenland as a member of NATO might come up. "America first" links Greenland to the United States and at the same time weakens the Greenlandic Danish relationship. That is why the value of "The Greenland Card" is reduced in spite of growing tension in the Arctic.

Growing tension in the Arctic

In international security policy, rhetoric tends to play a major role. Right now we have peace, but what can one not imagine? It is a general political assessment that both the USSR and the US rhetoric have changed since the Illullisatt Declaration. The change in attitude towards the Arctic as "an Ocean of Peace" has changed, and there is undoubtedly a Russian buildup. Whether this is preferably understood defensively or offensively must in this context be left to people with deeper insights. It seems to me, at least, to ascertain that a very large area north of Asia and Europe is Russian proximity.
Søterritoriet nord for Rusland

Søterrotoriet nord for Rusland. Den røde streg viser russisk hav. Kilde: Wikipedia.

Both Laporov and Pompeio have sharpened the rhetoric, and there is no doubt that tensions are rising and mutual understanding over radar is declining between the United States and Russia. There are still contacts between the superpowers, but with Pompeio's speech at the recent Arctic Council meeting, they saw what such a forum could also be used for: unilateral rhetoric and warning of future political initiatives, for example, Trump's slightly puerile desire to " buy Greenland ".

The value of "The Greenland Card"

In a terminology dealing with the triangle connection between the superpower USA, the small state of Denmark and the micro-state of Greenland it has been discussed in recent years, at the request of Ulrik Pram Gad, whether the "Greenland map" (14) has any value? In a small state theoretical context, Denmark has chosen - perhaps also because of a desire to be extra nice to the United States - to participate in the foreign foreign policy at all times. We have had troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and have shown great adherence to US directions in the hope of getting something in return as particularly submissive. Trump's declaration of wanting to buy Greenland clearly showed that the Greenland Card - despite Ulrik Pram Gad's thesis that the value of the card should increase with increased tension in the Arctic - had overlooked the simple power-political fact that extra loyalty plays no major role power play dramaturgy. Denmark does not appear to have built up any special international political capital through this kind of servility. Whether you see Trump as a brutal businessman or an undiplomatic politician must appear inferior in that regard. Disregarding Trump's naïve and slightly childish demeanor, the core is and will be the conclusion that the Danish-Greenlandic relationship may be shaken by American entrenchment.    

Is Denmark going to switch to a more European oriented security position?

Christianborg set fra ridebanen. I forgrunden ekvipage med heste og kuske i galla

Christiansborg (Danske Kongeslotte)

  Danish security policy, since the protest policy in the 1980ies  has been uniquely based on the assumption that courtesy to the wishes of the United States together with the US interest in Greenland could together form strategic  the pillars. But as the United States becomes more interested in the  world outside (China?) and leaves Europe to itself, the Danish defense reservation will - at least symbolically - stand in the way of a reorientation of Danish security policy. But in addition, a purely Danish EU-oriented defense and foreign policy leaves Greenland to a more uncertain fate all the while the EU can hardly by itself prioritize a single country's former Arctic colony into its geopolitical security, where there is turmoil probably elsewhere, not least in the eastern Mediterranean. One can, of course, diplomatically argue that a kind of triple strategy is needed, with the EU filling more NATO than before and where Greenland is bilaterally organized between the US and Denmark. But then you can almost read from the previous sentence that in that case we have done without a host: For what does the Greenlandic population think about that model?    

Conclusion; Danish minds should be decolonized

Danish security and foreign policy is characterized by the  optimistic motto: "It should go all together". It is about the same optimistic-happy sun-and-summer point of view as Police Chief Bastian's good questions to the butcher after the repeated break-ins up to the Sun-and-summer party in Cardamom City: "What is the way that can not keep going ? " (12) As I see it, the Greenland-Danish relationship is threatened, without Greenland necessarily having an attractive alternative. The US is now investing in greatly improved relations with Greenland through, for example. establishment of representation in Nuuk. The trade monopolies are in the process of being abolished, and I can see no reason why the Danish monopolies or cartels in the supply of groceries, construction and information technology in the long run need to exist. The question is not whether Denmark can leave  Greenland, but vice versa - whether Greenland really wants to get rid of Denmark. It is the new playing card and it sits onm the hands  in Nuuk. That partly leaves Denmark in a post-colonial dilemma. If you make a total financial calculation without regard to international policy, where the private economic gains are not included, Denmark risks to meet the obligations without any overall financial gain on its post-colonial adventure. Denmark is more dependent on Greenland's benevolence than anyone dreams if the relationship is to continue. In Denmark, we may hope that the Greenlanders with the knife on the throat, due to the cultural hybrid, because of our slightly co-married culture, will continue to maintain good relations with Denmark in the time of need, because we are the least bad opportunity Nevertheless, I believe that more and more respect for Greenlanders and Greenland must be shown consistently and long if this goal is to be achieved. The Danish minds should be decolonized.                                                           * Mikael Hertig (70) is M.,of Sc, Pol.  former civil servant He is studying  International Security and Law at  Center for War Studies, at the Unbiversity of Southern Denmark t SDU.  


  1:   In the UN charter and in the Act of Greenlandic Selg Government it is anticipated that Greenland is gradually moving from former colony towards some sort of independence. Read more here: 2: HERTIG, Mikael: "Er Selvstyreloven forfatningsstridig?"   DANISH 3: CHRISTENSEN, Jens Peter et al. "Dansk Statsret" 2016. (Danish) København Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag s 201: " "by the bill 579 on International Law agreements  by the Government of the Faroe Islands and Bil 473 of 2009 about Self Government of Greenland a right to act on behalf of The Union of Denmark  in interpeople affairs insofar the matters of Faroe and Greenlandic matters"   4: FANON, Franz: "Les Damnés de la Terre". The book is a Marxist-inspired militant settlement with the French slave state of Guadeloupe and Martinique. As a pervasive theme he asks the question of whether independence and liberation are necessarily followed. In doing so, he foresees that the post-colonial community does not necessarily become free. The book can be downloaded from here: 5: Ekstra Bladet, December 19  (Danish): " 6: Greenland Minerals Limited wrote: China is deeply involved in this company. 7: DUC, Marine "Naamiik! Conflit et mobilisation collective en contexte de faibles densités: le cas de la contestation contre un projet de mine à Kuannersuit au Groenland", Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Lyon 2017 or in short form: 8 :   EIMER Thomas R. (2020) "What if the subaltern speaks? Traditionalknowledge policies in Brazil and India", Third World Quarterly, 41:1, 96-112, DOI:10.1080/01436597.2019.1650639 To :  SPIVAK, Gayatri Chakravorty. 9: Look at this   10:  This web page is about upgrading of the Radar at Thule of Greenland was not involved in this decision.   11:By  Sphere of influence:   12: THUESEN et al.,  DANISH "Erfaringer, ekspansion og konsolidering 1721-82, kap 2 i GULLØV, "Grønland - den arktiske koloni", Gads Forlag, København 2017, s 107 13: EGNER, Thorbjørn "Folk og Røvere i Kardemomme By", efter hukommelsen 14; Institut for militære studier CMS KU, "Grønlandskortet" Se her:  


  CHRISTENSEN, Jens Peter et al. "Dansk Statsret" 2016. København Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag DUC, Marine and HERTIG, Mikael:    The Blessing Time of Colonies, aquut 2017 EIMER, Thomas "What if the subaltern speaks? Traditionalknowledge policies in Brazil and India", Third World Quarterly, 41:1, 96-112, DOI:10.1080/01436597.2019.1650639      To link to this article: Ekstra Bladet: Grønland dropper Huawei, december 2019  "" HERTIG, Mikael: "Er Selvstyreloven forfatningsstridig?"  Kan hentes her: Artiklen blev udgivet i Tidsskriftet Grønland i 2018   FANON, Frantz: "Les damnés de la terre" 1961 . Kan downloades herfra: THUESEN et al., "Erfaringer, ekspansion og konsolidering 1721-82, kap 2 i GULLØV, "Grønland - den arktiske koloni", Gads Forlag, København 2017  

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