(This post draws directly from ideas from co authored work with Joseph Blocher; and particularly the numerous discussions we have had about the incentives that a market for sovereign control might create for nations to take better care of their minority populations in outlying areas (e.g., the US and Puerto Rico). Mistakes in the discussion below, however, are solely mine).
It seems like forever ago, but it has only been a few weeks since the news came out that our esteemed chief executive wanted the US to purchase Greenland. The notion was widely ridiculed in the press and provided wonderful fodder for comics around the globe. But as people looked beneath the surface, it quickly became apparent that there was nothing in international law that prohibited the purchase and sale of sovereign control over a territory. Where Trump was wrong was in his assumption that he needed to purchase Greenland from the Danes. Under post World War II international law, however, a former colony such as Greenland has the right of self determination. To quote the Danish prime minister, responding to Trump, “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland.”
The Danish PM also said “I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.” And, from her perspective of apparently wanting to keep the status quo of Greenland being part of Denmark, it makes sense that that’s what she hopes. But let us focus on the words “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland.” If one thinks about those words just a little, they mean that Trump’s purchase (and maybe he should start calling this a “merger”, since that seems more polite) is perhaps a lot easier to execute than he initially thought.
Trump and any other suitors that Greenland might have (Canada, China, Iceland, Russia, etc.) need to only focus their attention on making the Greenlanders happy; they don’t need to worry about the Danes. No need for Trump to do diplomatic trips to Copenhagen. Trips should be to Nuuk instead. After all, it is the approval of the 55,000 Greenlanders that he needs.
How many Greenlander votes, specifically? (assuming that there would need to be a referendum first). International law doesn’t clearly say; but surely more than a majority – and ideally with a voting mechanism designed in such a way that the rights of the minority that might not want to be part of the merger being appropriately protected.
The point is that if DJT and his supporters remain committed to the Greenland strategy – and it appears they do (see here) – the next step is will be to persuade the people of Greenland that this merger is in their interest. That way, the next time Trump offers a merger deal to the roughly 55,000 Greenlanders, they will react with enthusiasm rather than horror. One would expect, therefore, to see the US taking steps to mount the charm offensive in Greenland. And, as it turns out, preliminary steps in this direction have already been announced with the US planning to open a consulate in Greenland and engage in various outreach programs as part of its broader arctic charm strategy (here).