22 February 2022 in Dossier War for the Arctic, Geopolitics


In 1957 the English novelist Nevil Shute published his masterpiece, “On the beach”. There has been an atomic war, the whole of humanity has been exterminated, one last beach remains – that of eastern Australia, which is nevertheless about to be reached by the radioactive clouds that have already wiped out life from the rest of the planet. It is a heartbreaking novel, contrasting the usual everyday life of the western world with the awareness of death that will take everything away in a few weeks. The attitude of the population is similar to the one we are all displaying in recent years, after the ecological catastrophe has been announced and politicians are thinking of using even more gas and building new nuclear power plants: “If what they say is right, none of us will have time to do everything we had planned to do. But we can keep doing it as long as we can.

The world goes on in a mad rush, amidst pandemics, announced wars, the ferocity of despotic regimes, hunger and thirst. In the wonderful film made from the book in 1959, the scientist Julian Osborne, played by Fred Astaire, comments laconically: ‘Perhaps we are too foolish to deserve a planet like this’. Since then, the film industry has fed us thousands of possible endings to life on earth, from natural catastrophe to virus outbreak, from alien attack to pointless world war, and in each of these narratives there is one last outpost that endures. In the real world, this outpost will be Greenland. An immense island that has been inhospitable for millennia, and which will probably be the last stronghold of a dying humanity, if our governments do not wake up from their selfish, blind and complacent slumber. An island that no one knows anything about, and about which it is right to tell.

The Inuit and the defeat of the Vikings

Erik the Red in a painting by Hans Dahl[1]

Some five thousand years have passed since humans first set foot on the world’s largest island: from Canada, pre-Inuit civilisations arrived near what was to become the town of Qaanaaq in north-west Greenland[2]. Since then, there have been several waves of migration, including that of the Thule people, of whom today’s Greenlanders are direct descendants[3]. Coming from the Russian Far East, the Thule civilisation arrived in Greenland after having spread to Alaska and northern Canada, and surprisingly adapted to the Arctic environment, using ice as a brick[4], hunting large marine mammals, and perfecting leather boats and large dog sleds[5]. After the Little Ice Age, the Thule had to adapt again, and became caribou, seal and fish hunters[6].

Over time, the development of hunting has seen astonishing results, from igloos to transport and the use of teeth and skin from the animals killed. One only has to look at the umiak – the large whaling and travel boat made from walrus ribs and skin – and the kayak (a one-person, leather boat also used for whaling), the formidable harpoons made from animal bones, the bows reinforced with musk ox horn, the underground winter dwellings (supported by whale ribs or jaws and covered with walrus skin) in which the Thule warm themselves with furs and lamps burning seal or whale oil, before moving into leather tents in spring[7].

The Norse arrived in Greenland at the same time as the Thule: legend has it that Erik the Red, a Norwegian exiled from Iceland for murder, landed on Greenland’s shores in 982 with the need to find a new place to live, discovering a boundless virgin land[8] which, at the time, was less cold than it would later become[9]. Returning to Iceland three years later, Erik succeeded in setting up an expedition which, in 985, brought five hundred settlers in twenty-four boats to the Green Land, of which only fourteen reached their destination[10]. These first inhabitants established two colonies in the most suitable areas for agriculture: Eystribyggð in the east and Vestribyggð in the west, in each of which between 2,500 and 5,000 people lived[11].

What happened to this civilisation that disappeared in the 16th century is unclear. Archaeologists know that they applied the same methods as in Norway, that they excelled as farmers and shepherds, and that they made extensive use of timber[12]. In soil and lake sediment analyses, researchers find clues that indicate that the Nordic farmers maintained the pastures with manure and irrigation canals[13]. Life is organised around manors and hundreds of farms (where there are always at least a couple of cows), where sheep and goats are reared; as climatic conditions worsen this ends, and fish and seals become 80% of their diet[14].

The seal hunt involves the whole community: some provide the labour, others the boats, there are centres that organise the expeditions, after which the catch is divided among the farms, probably according to the contribution of each farm to the hunt[15]. The ivory trade was born, a luxury good and highly sought after in the Middle Ages, thanks to the slaughter of walruses[16]. From the 12th century onwards, a diocese was established in Gardar, which became the centre of Greenlandic Catholicism until the 14th century[17], as well as the first diocese to be established on the American continental shelf[18]. A cathedral dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors[19], was built there, and its ruins, together with those of many other buildings, probably constructed by stonemasons from Norway, show that Gardar was one of the main centres of Norse Greenland[20].

The Danish reconquest

Walrus hunting, the source of mankind’s first major ivory trade, in a 19th-century miniature[21]

Due to the worsening climate, deep social differences, vassalage, emigration out of hunger and fear arose in this dark and terrible Middle Ages[22]. Initially, the ivory trade survived, but with the discovery of elephants in Africa, it too was no longer in demand[23]. In 1368, the commercial ship sent annually by the King of Norway to the island sank, followed by only four other vessels between 1381 and 1406, and then nothing more[24]. The Black Death, which swept through Europe in 1347[25], spread to Norway in 1349, decimating the population to just over one hundred thousand people[26], and this cancelled the commercial voyages: the few Norse left in the eastern settlement (less than one thousand[27]) left Greenland and moved to Iceland or Northern Europe[28]. Even earlier, the experience of the isolated western settlement, which the church envoy Ivar Baardsson, who arrived there from Norway in 1340, found deserted, ended[29].

The Thule, however, resist. Only in 1721 did a European appear on the coasts of the Green Land: Hans Poulsson Egede, a Dano-Norwegian Protestant priest (Denmark and Norway formed a single state from 1536 to 1814[30]), who landed with the intention of converting the colonists and continuing his alchemical studies[31]. He arrived with four ships financed by the King of Denmark and Norway, Frederick IV, on an island off the west coast, later named Island of Hope, where he lived until 1728 with his wife Gertrud, their five children and the forty colonists who followed him[32]. He founded an urban settlement and explored the surrounding coastline, finding only ruins[33]. He zealously undertook missionary work among the Inuit, going so far as to baptise some of their children in 1724[34], adapting a line from the Lord’s Prayer: “… give us this day our daily bread…” into “… give us this day our daily seal…”: the locals had no cereals and knew bread[35]. In 1728, the colony moved from the Island of Hope to a nearby stretch of land, Godt-Haab (Good Hope)[36], the Danish name for the city now known as Nuuk, the capital of Greenland[37].

Over the next fifty years private companies established a trade in seals, whales, caribou, fish and birds in Nuuk, but in 1776 the Danish government granted the Royal Greenland Trading Department (Den Kongelige Grønlandske Handel – KGH) a monopoly on trading in West Greenland[38], which lasted until 1950[39]. The royal ordinance known as “Instruxen af 1782” (which remained in force until 1908) provides the legal framework for the operation of KGH with the aim of protecting the monopoly on trade and limiting contacts between locals and foreigners[40]. In fact, the ordinance leaves the Greenlanders to govern themselves, not least because there is no formal law regulating relations between them[41]. Formally, from 1814, Greenland became a Danish territory along with Iceland and the Faroe Islands, after the Treaty of Kiel sanctioned the cession of Norway to the Kingdom of Sweden[42].

The policy arrived in 1860, when the state introduced councils with Greenlandic participation in each industrial district[43]. The Forstanderskaber (Board of Trustees) deals with cases concerning civil and criminal decisions involving Greenlanders, and distributes a subsidy that rewards the most productive hunters with large families[44]. The Kommuneråd (Municipal Council) replaces the Forstanderkaber in 1911, as part of the introduction of two Landsråd (County Councils), one for North Greenland and one for South Greenland[45]. In 1925, the Sysselråd (District Councils), extended municipal councils, were founded, dealing with the care of the elderly and the settlement of disputes[46].

In 1950 Copenhagen launched a new policy (Nyordningen), which, in a Greenland where 55% of the population lived in camps, encouraged the concentration of the population by encouraging the development of a large-scale fishing industry[47]: a step that the Inuit were eagerly awaiting[48], even though the choice of which towns should be created was made without consulting the locals[49]. Six thousand new houses were built, children went to school and learned the Danish language, hospitals (and a sanatorium for tuberculosis) were built[50]. In Nuuk, which was still called Godthåb, a Governor resides[51], municipal institutions are reorganised, women and men over the age of 23 are granted the right to vote[52], and Greenland gains two seats in the Folketing (the Danish parliament)[53].

Between 1950 and 1955, DKK 19 million (approx. USD 22 million today) was spent annually on social housing and infrastructure: roads, power stations, water supply systems, sewage systems, port facilities, the Holsteinsborg shipyard[54]; KGH invests, from 1950 to 1962, 40 million kroner in logistics, 40 million in infrastructure development, 80 million in building schools and hospitals, 80 million in building new houses for Danes moving to the island, and a further 80 million to improve housing conditions for Greenlanders[55]. Relative to today, the plan is worth almost 7 billion dollars. Life expectancy increases from 32.2 to 50.5 years for men and from 37.5 to 55.2 years for women[56], although the plan misses its main target because few investors are prepared to move to Greenland[57].

View of the infamous Blok P in Nuuk[58]

In 1960 the G60 commission was appointed with the task of promoting private entrepreneurship[59]. G60 confirms the need to raise the social and cultural level of the population, and its living standards[60]: about 4.2 billion crowns are spent on the following objectives: 1. Expand employment; 2. Continue to displace the population towards urban areas; 3. Improve the efficiency of enterprises; 4. Give high priority to education; 5. Accelerate the building of houses[61]. The fishing fleet is enlarged which, together with investments in processing plants (at Narsaq, Paamiut, Nuuk, Maniitsoq and Sisimiut), should increase fish production from 3,000 tonnes in 1963 to a projected 40,000 tonnes by 1975[62] – a calculation made without knowing that, due to the industrialisation of fishing in the rest of the world, cod are disappearing from the sea off Greenland[63].

Immigration to urban centres becomes aggressive, which prevents small-scale fishermen from supporting themselves without subsidies[64]. Once in the city, immigrants are housed in buildings with hundreds of tiny cells, of which the huge and infamous Block P in Nuuk is a prime example[65]. Built in 1966, it transformed a society of hunters and fishermen into one of beggars[66], and became a symbol of the failure of colonial policy in Greenland[67]: alcoholism[68], domestic violence, infant mortality, the spread of AIDS and malnutrition exploded – at the end of the 1980s Greenland had the highest suicide rate in the world[69]. The Danish people openly condemn this failure, and demand equality for the Inuit[70].

On 9 April 1940 Germany occupies Denmark and Norway[71] and Greenland is isolated, without supplies; the gravity of the situation prompts Axel Svane and Eske Brun, Landsfogeder of South and North Greenland, to officially take over the island’s government[72]. Aid agreements were made with the United States[73] in exchange for the construction of US military bases on the island[74], and despite later protests from the Danes, this agreement is still valid today[75]. In 1941 meteorological and radio stations were set up at Narsarsuaq airport, followed by air bases at Sondrestrom, Ikateq and Gronnedal, and finally, in 1943, the US air force bases at Scoresbysund and Thule[76]. The fear was that the Nazis would attack the Ivigtut cryolite mine (the only one of its kind in the world[77]), indispensable in the process of extracting aluminium from bauxite, which is present in almost all military artefacts[78]. In operation since 1856, in 1939 it produced 56,455 tonnes[79], but in the following years the annual average was 90,000 tonnes[80].

American military bases

The entrance to the gigantic tunnel system of the Iceworm Project[81]

In 1946, Washington offered Copenhagen $100 million in gold bullion to buy Greenland, but Denmark refused[82], but then, since both countries were members of the newly formed NATO, accepted the military bases[83]. Around the base of Thule, where over 10,000 soldiers and technicians work, Camp Century is created, which should secretly act as a forerunner for the Iceworm Project: a vast underground network of launch sites for nuclear missiles which, being moved through the long series of tunnels, would be impossible to attack: if it had been completed, Iceworm would have had a surface area of about 137,000 square kilometres – but the entire operation is interrupted when it is realised that the extreme mobility of the ice surface tends to deform the tunnels and cause them to collapse[84]. As the US army left, it left behind 9200 tonnes of materials, 200,000 litres of fuel oil, radioactive waste and extremely poisonous paint residues, assuming that these would be buried forever under the snow[85]. An assumption that is proving to be wrong because of climate change, and which risks producing an environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions with the emergence of these substances[86].

However, Thule Air Base was the scene (on 21 January 1968) of one of the worst nuclear accidents in US history, when a fire broke out, due to human error[87], in the cabin of the B-52G “HOBO 28”, a bomber carrying four thermonuclear devices, causing it to crash on the ice of the North Bay Star, just west of Thule[88]. The bombs fortunately did not explode, but the impact with the ground and subsequent fire damaged them, causing the radioactive material they contained to be released into the environment[89]. It is a quantity of radioactive material that has never been released into the sea and which wreaks havoc on the fauna for hundreds of kilometres as far as the Narssarssuk settlement[90]. Hunting and fishing were immediately banned in the area, and the army spent billions on a years-long clean-up operation[91], which removed 93% of the contaminated material from the area[92] and made most of the workers employed in the operation sick[93].

But the United States could not give up Greenland. Times change, the Cold War arrives and then the present, in which the Arctic waters become potential high-intensity trade routes, ready to be exploited especially by the Russian navy and merchant navy: in the Soviet vision, the Northern Sea Route will connect the future oil and gas fields of the Arctic with the European importing countries in half the time compared to a few years earlier[94]. Moscow regards the Polar Sea as its own national territory, and is busily building new military bases on Russia’s Arctic coast[95]. China also wants its own Polar Silk Road[96], and is investing in mining in Iceland and Greenland[97].

The treasures of the subsoil

The Kvanefjeld area, a promised land for mining companies around the world[98]

If the Russian objective is above all military supremacy, the Chinese objective is the control of the enormous wealth of natural resources, the exploitation of which, thanks to the melting of the glaciers, is less problematic[99]: but these deposits are of vital importance for both Russia[100] and China[101]. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic contains oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22% of the world’s untapped oil and gas[102]. In the Arctic region there are deposits of phosphate, bauxite, diamonds, iron ore and gold[103]. In Greenland, melting ice reveals deposits of rare earths[104], essential elements in the production of electric car batteries, DVD players, wind turbines, computers, car catalysts, oil refineries, monitors and televisions, laser technology, fibre optics, superconductors, but also military equipment such as jet engines, missile guidance systems, missile defence systems, satellites and night vision devices[105].

Kvanefjeld (also known as Kuannersuit) is a mining site at the southern tip of Greenland, discovered in the 1950s near the small town of Narsaq and developed with a view to extracting uranium[106], which is present in such large quantities that it is the sixth largest deposit in the world[107]. From the 1960s to the early 1980s, the Danish government financed studies on the site to find out the composition of the mineral resources, and this work led to the identification of uranium and thorium[108]; Denmark’s renunciation of nuclear power in 1983 put an end to the Kvanefjeld exploitation project[109]. In 2007 the Australian company Greenland Minerals[110] acquired the area, where a large deposit of rare earths had been discovered in the meantime[111]. The main shareholder is the Chinese giant Shenghe Resources Holding, the world’s second largest rare earths mining company[112], which acquired 11% of Greenland Minerals in 2016[113].

The Shenghe Group, 14% controlled by the Beijing government[114], owns 8% of MP Material Corporation of Las Vegas, which is involved in rare earth mining at the Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mining and Processing Facility[115], a rare earth extraction site located 85 km southwest of Las Vegas[116]. The aggressiveness of China’s investment policy in the field of rare earths is, in all likelihood, among the reasons that, in 2019, prompted then US President Donald Trump to once again explore the possibility of buying Greenland[117]. Beyond the clear rejection by Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen[118], the news shows the strategic value of the area[119]. The result of the Greenlandic legislative elections of 6 April 2021 saw the victory of the left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) party, led by Múte Bourup Egede, who is campaigning against the exploitation of Kvanefjeld, on the grounds of the harmful environmental consequences that the presence of uranium on the site threatens to unleash[120]: on 10 November, the Nuuk parliament passed a law prohibiting mining on sites with uranium concentrations above 100 parts per million[121], effectively putting an end to Greenland Minerals’ work[122].

Another blow to China’s aims is the revocation, in November 2021, of the licence to exploit the Isua Iron-Ore mine, 150 km north-east of Nuuk, which had been awarded to the Chinese company General Nice Development[123]. This is surprising news, given that the Chinese bought the licence from London Mining Plc, which in 2013 had obtained a 30-year licence for the mine and the construction of the port of Kangerlussuaq: a project announced as the largest in the island’s history[124]. In 2014, London Mining went bankrupt due to the collapse of iron ore prices and heavy losses at its mine in Sierra Leone due to the Ebola epidemic[125]. In January 2015, its Greenland subsidiary London Mining Greenland A/S is sold to the Chinese[126].

General Nice plans to produce 15 million tonnes of iron ore a year, employing 2,000 Chinese workers, but a lack of funding and the Chinese inability to pay the Greenlandic government what was agreed[127] led to the licence being revoked[128]. Despite the Russian and Chinese aims, the three countries most active in Greenland’s mining sector are the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia[129]. These countries mine nickel, copper, platinum, diamonds, cobalt, zinc, lead, silver, gold, ilmenite, titanium, molybdenum, tungsten, anorthosite, rare earths, niobium, tantalum, palladium, vanadium, niobium, zirconium, hafnium, arfvedsonite, feldspar, graphite, iron, hematite and magnetite – a true land of plenty[130], where the government looks favourably on foreign investment[131].

A longing for independence

21 June 2020: An Inuit demonstration against racial discrimination, Danish imperialism and Greenland independence[132]

When Nuuk became aware of the need to no longer depend on Danish aid, the desire for self-government grew, culminating in the referendum of 17 January 1979, in which 70% of the population voted for the introduction of the Home Rule Act, an autonomy project that gave rise to the Greenlandic Parliament, which acquired sovereignty in the areas of education, health, fishing and the environment[133]. On 25 November 2008, another referendum, concerning an extension of autonomy, saw the victory of those in favour with 75% of the votes[134], and sanctioned the sovereignty of the island’s government in various fields, such as natural resources[135] and, in part, foreign policy[136]; control of the police, courts and coastguard also became an internal competence, and now only one more referendum is needed to definitively cut the umbilical cord with Copenhagen[137].

Only security policies, however, remain the preserve of the Danish government, which would like to prevent Greenland from leaving the Atlantic Pact at any cost[138]. Persistent speculation about the possibility of China building an airport or (in the future) a military presence in Greenland is NATO’s nightmare[139]; in June 2018, the then Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen settled the matter by declaring that the island’s airports remain under Danish jurisdiction (through the Copenhagen government’s acquisition of a majority stake in the company in charge of Greenland’s airport management), as Greenland does not have its own army[140]. The Americans remain, although their new plans are partly shrouded in mystery. The Thule air base remains, and with it the earnings of the thousands of Greenlanders who work for the military airport, and when the United States decides to employ only American workers[141], in the face of protests from the Nuuk government, in order to maintain the base, they backtrack[142]. And the United States, in exchange for aid, threatens to increase its military presence[143], so as to have a defensive position against the Russian air base at Nagurskoye, only 900 kilometres from the North Pole, from which Russian jets can reach the Thule air base much faster than before[144].

The Danes took steps to build a new radar station, under NATO auspices, on top of Mount Sornfelli in the Faroe Islands, ignoring the vibrant protests of the inhabitants, who feared becoming a potential military target and losing exports to Russia[145]. A team of US military technicians has been in Greenland to assess whether the two new civilian airports under construction at Nuuk and Ilulissat could be useful to the air force, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has completed three-dimensional mapping of the Arctic, useful for future military operations[146]; in 2020 and 2021 the US and Canadian air forces will conduct two exercises, under the aegis of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), involving the Thule base[147]. In this way, the struggle for Greenlandic independence takes place under the firm political and military control of the West.

Another example: the mining site of Citronen Fjord, in the far north-east of the island, has been the subject of a $657 million investment in the local zinc mine – paid for by the Australian company Ironbark Zinc – since December 2021[148]. There has been Chinese interest in the site for years, but this is not happening[149]. In 2020, there is only one project involving a Chinese company[150]: the exploration of the Wegner Halvø site, with the aim of creating a copper mine, owned by the British company Nordic Mining[151], which has formed an industrial alliance with the giant Jiangxi Copper[152]. The relationship between Greenland and the United States is quite different, especially after the conclusion of the US-Greenland cooperation plan in October 2020, which contains the removal of regulatory and tariff barriers to market access for Greenlandic goods and business in the United States, as well as business partnership projects – especially in tourism and fisheries[153].

In addition to this, there are cooperation projects between US and Greenlandic universities to create academic programmes and professional studies in land and fisheries management, hospitality and sustainable tourism[154]; likewise the US, partly through its National Park Service, aims to cooperate in the tourism sector, in particular sustainable tourism, park and cruise ship management and the creation of an eco-tourism sector[155]. Because a possible independent future for Greenland depends on the island’s ability to ensure economic self-sufficiency. There is still a long way to go. The fishing sector is the flagship of its economy, with an annual turnover of $513 million and accounting for around 97% of exports (2019)[156], half of which, it must be said, are to Denmark ($686 million in 2019)[157].

Inuit Ataqatigiit MP Aaja Chemnitz Larsen speaks in the Danish Folketinget[158]

Copenhagen provides Greenland with an annual subsidy of around USD 600 million, equivalent to a quarter of the island’s GDP and almost two-thirds of its public budget[159]. A comparison of the figures shows that economic independence is still a long way off, even if the situation continues to improve. This is why the Greenlandic parties are divided over these subsidies: the social democrats of Siumut (party of former Prime Minister Kim Kielsen)[160] and the Democrats[161] are in favour[162], while the opposition parties (Naleraq, founded by former Prime Minister Hans Enoksen[163] and Inuit Ataqatigiit[164], left-wing force of Múte Bourup Egede[165]) fear that this will have negative repercussions on the process for independence[166].

An iconic figure in Inuit politics is Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, an elected member of Folketinget in Greenland[167], who is very popular due to her commitment to constructive dialogue between Inuit and Denmark[168], and who is committed to fighting the problems of alcoholism, widespread obesity and the growing imbalance between an urbanised west and the rest of the island, which is still poor and backward[169]. Larsen believes that independence is still a distant goal, which must be characterised by the peaceful development of Greenland’s ties to the Arctic[170]. Larsen calls for Greenlandic representation in NATO and the Arctic Council – a position shared by Sara Olsvig, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Affairs[171], who says she believes the presence of the Arctic peoples at the NATO table is now indispensable[172].

Greenland, which has been part of the European Union since 1973 following Denmark’s entry, was only able to vote in 1982 on whether or not to remain[173], and voted to leave[174], which was completed on 1 February 1985 after two years of negotiations, at the end of which Europe retained fishing rights in the island’s territorial waters and Greenland retained the right to financial contributions[175]. Today, as an Overseas Territory of the EU, Greenland benefits from a specific funding programme, which for the period 2021-2027 amounts to a total of EUR 225 million, 90% of which is earmarked for the education sector; the country can also access a further EUR 50 million from EU funding opportunities, also intended for the Overseas Territories[176].

Again, politicians like Larsen are key to somehow staying attached to the European train, aware that the local population has little awareness of how important this is, also in terms of future independence[177]. An update of the 2015 Joint Declaration between the EU and the Danish and Greenlandic governments is currently being worked on, reaffirming the historic ties between the territories and making official, albeit vague, common goals, including the Arctic issue, sustainable fishing, education, tourism, culture, environmental protection and, of course, the exploitation of natural resources[178].

The melting of the polar ice cap

The evolution of Arctic glaciers over the last 32 years[179]

The EU’s effort to help Greenland should be seen in the light of the Joint Communication on the Arctic, published by the European Commission last October[180]: EU policy focuses on paying more attention to resource developments in an attempt to discourage, through a moratorium, the development of resources whose exploitation runs counter to climate objectives (the use of hydrocarbons) while encouraging ecological transition: a strategy that triggers mixed reactions in the Arctic Council, which includes Sweden, Finland and Denmark, three EU Member States[181]. The Scandinavian countries support the battle for a rapid transition in the exploitation of resources[182]. Greenland could be a valuable ally in this regard, countering the grievances of Council members such as Alaska, Russia and Norway, which rely on oil and gas as primary sources of income as well as energy[183].

There is another reason to join the European Green Deal[184]: the ice sheet has lost another 166 billion tonnes[185] and even its thickest and oldest part is beginning to melt[186], instead of snow it is raining, and if this continues, by 2030 tens of millions of people will be in serious danger of flooding[187]. Some studies suggest that Greenland could contribute to a rise in sea levels of 5 to 33 cm by 2100[188]. The direct consequence of this will be an increase in hurricanes and storm surges, affecting an area where 400 million people live[189]. These changes, moreover, are irreversible[190].

What does this mean? Let us be pragmatic and realistic. Greenland is one third the size of the European Union, and climate change is transforming this land, where for millions of years human survival has been a daily struggle against the fury of the elements, into a country comparable to those in northern Europe – cold, but with a long, pleasant summer, fertile, and with the richest mineral deposits in the world. It is a country with plenty of free space, in which the individualistic spirit of the Inuit will never feel the need to build megalopolises. If we were modern Moses, forced by desertification and rising ocean levels to leave the land we live in, Greenland could soon be the Promised Land. With the same ending as in Nevil Shute’s novel, if we are able to destroy even this last corner of paradise on the blue planet.


[1] http://www.museoalessandroroccavilla.it/2020/06/08/leif-erikson-i-vichinghi-nel-nord-america/

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28965227 ; https://visitgreenland.com/about-greenland/history/

[3] https://www.uaf.edu/museum/collections/archaeo/online-exhibits/paleo-eskimo-cultures/thule/

[4] The igloos are the dwellings in which the Thule live while travelling or hunting. Using snow knives made of bone or horn, they cut and stack blocks to form the structure, then waterproof them through the heat generated by a lamp placed inside. https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/aboriginal/thule.php ; https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/thule-winter-house

[5] https://www.uaf.edu/museum/collections/archaeo/online-exhibits/paleo-eskimo-cultures/thule/

[6] https://www.uaf.edu/museum/collections/archaeo/online-exhibits/paleo-eskimo-cultures/thule/

[7] https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/aboriginal/thule.php ; https://www.historicalclimatology.com/features/what-made-the-thule-move-climate-and-culture-in-the-high-arctic

[8] https://www.greenlandbytopas.com/erik-the-reds-land-the-norse-in-south-greenland/

[9] https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/did-medieval-warm-period-welcome-vikings-greenland/

[10] https://explore.quarkexpeditions.com/blog/erik-the-red-the-explorer-who-tamed-greenland-2

[11] https://explore.quarkexpeditions.com/blog/erik-the-red-the-explorer-who-tamed-greenland-2

[12] https://www.science.org/content/article/why-did-greenland-s-vikings-disappear

[13] https://www.science.org/content/article/why-did-greenland-s-vikings-disappear

[14]  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-greenland-vikings-vanished-180962119/

[15]  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-greenland-vikings-vanished-180962119/

[16] https://www.science.org/content/article/why-did-greenland-s-vikings-disappear

[17] https://www.jstor.org/stable/25011635?seq=13#metadata_info_tab_contents

[18] https://medium.com/short-history/ghost-church-at-the-edge-of-the-world-4b34c88f7db4

[19] https://www.stnicholascenter.org/gazetteer/1686?photo=4

[20] https://www.science.org/content/article/why-did-greenland-s-vikings-disappear

[21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walrus_attack#/media/File:PSM_V46_D468_A_kayak_man_attacked_by_a_walrus.jpg

[22] https://www.archaeology.org/news/3186-150408-greenland-viking-climate ; https://sciencenordic.com/archaeology-climate-change-denmark/greenland-vikings-outlived-climate-change-for-centuries/1416231 ; https://www.science.org/content/article/why-did-greenland-s-vikings-disappear

[23] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-greenland-vikings-vanished-180962119/

[24] Gary Dean Peterson, “Vikings and Goths: A History of Ancient and Medieval Sweden”, McFarland & Company, 2016, pp. 233-34

[25] https://en.unesco.org/news/black-death-how-can-we-learn-spread-disease-along-silk-roads

[26] James A. Brothen, “Population Decline and Plague in late medieval Norway”, in Annales de démographie historique, 1996, p. 144

[27] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309771/

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[30] https://www.lifeinnorway.net/denmark-norway-union/

[31] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00026980.2020.1747305

[32] https://visitgreenland.com/articles/300-years-hans-egedes-mission-and-legacy-in-greenland/

[33] https://www.science.org/content/article/why-did-greenland-s-vikings-disappear

[34] https://visitgreenland.com/articles/300-years-hans-egedes-mission-and-legacy-in-greenland/

[35] http://vilnews.com/2012-03-12458

[36] Jeannette Mirsky, “To the Arctic!: The Story of Northern Exploration from Earliest Times”, University of Chicago Press, 1970, p. 218

[37] https://www.historyextra.com/period/viking/explore-city-nuuk-greenland-norse-godthab/

[38] Søren Forchhammer, “Political Participation in Greenlandin the 19th Century, State Hegemony, and Emancipation”, The Northern Review #23, Summer 2001, pp. 39-40

[39] https://www.britannica.com/place/Arctic/Greenland

[40] https://www.his2rie.dk/kildetekster/det-moderne-groenland-fra-koloni-til-selvstyre/tekst-3/

[41] https://www.his2rie.dk/kildetekster/det-moderne-groenland-fra-koloni-til-selvstyre/tekst-3/

[42] https://delphipages.live/it/geografia-e-viaggi/paesi-del-mondo/the-treaty-of-kiel

[43] Søren Forchhammer, “Political Participation in Greenlandin the 19th Century, State Hegemony, and Emancipation”, The Northern Review #23, Summer 2001, p. 40

[44] https://da.nka.gl/digitale-samlinger/qangagooqgl/om-arkivalierne/forstanderskaber/

[45] https://da.nka.gl/digitale-samlinger/qangagooqgl/om-arkivalierne/kommuneraad/

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[48] Grønlandskommissionens Betænkning 1, 1950, p. 18

[49] https://www.uni.gl/media/40792/steenrjeppsonspeciale.pdf

[50] Marianne Jensen, “Postkoloniale ofre eller selvforskyldte problemer? – beslutningsprocesser i anlægsvirksomheden 1950-60”, Ilisimatusarfik / Inuit Institute, 2020, p. 52

[51] https://www.rigsombudsmanden.gl/rigsombuddet/historie/

[52] https://ina.gl/media/2526833/d-inatsisartut-website-inatsisartutgl-media-10680-201109-brochure-etablering-af-landsraadet-for-100-aar-siden-a4-dk.pdf

[53] https://www.legislationline.org/documents/id/6522

[54] Marianne Jensen, “Postkoloniale ofre eller selvforskyldte problemer? – beslutningsprocesser i anlægsvirksomheden 1950-60”, Ilisimatusarfik / Inuit Institute, 2020, p. 54

[55] Mark Nuttall, “Encyclopedia of the Arctic”, Routledge, 2005, p. 698

[56] Mark Nuttall, “Encyclopedia of the Arctic”, Routledge, 2005, p. 698

[57] http://multikult.weebly.com/groslashnlandskommissionen-af-1950—g50.html

[58] https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Greenland_13,_Nuuk,_town_centre_with_Blok_P.JPG

[59] Mark Nuttall, “Encyclopedia of the Arctic”, Routledge, 2005, p. 699

[60] Monika Margrét Stefánsdóttir, “Large Scale Projects in the Arctic: Socio-economic impacts of mining in Greenland”, University of Akureyri, 2014, pp. 22-23

[61] G-60, p.26

[62] G-60, pp.91-105

[63] Richard A. Caulfield, “Greenlanders, Whales and Whaling”, University Press of New England, 1997, Chapter 1

[64] Richard A. Caulfield, “Greenlanders, Whales and Whaling”, University Press of New England, 1997, Chapter 1

[65] Ronald E. Doel, Kristine C. Harper, Matthias Heymann, “Exploring Greenland: Cold War Science and Technology on Ice”, Springer, 2016, pp. 47-48

[66] https://www.nordatlantens.dk/en/exhibitions/blok-p-in-nuuk/

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[68] Klaus Dodds, Richard C. Powell (editors), “Polar Geopolitics? Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes”, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2014, p. 265

[69] Robert Aldrich, John Connell, “The Last Colonies”, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 98

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[71] https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA528871.pdf

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[73] https://cphpost.dk/?p=96870 ; U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 641-47

[74] https://cphpost.dk/?p=96870

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[77] https://www.mindat.org/loc-1958.html

[78] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-abandoned-mining-town-greenland-helped-win-world-war-ii-180973835/

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[81] https://www.science.org/content/article/mysterious-ice-buried-cold-war-military-base-may-be-unearthed-climate-change

[82] https://time.com/5653894/trump-greenland-history/

[83] Maria Ackrén, “From bilateral to trilateral agreement: The case of Thule Air Base”, in Arctic Yearbook 2019, p. 2

[84] https://www.sandboxx.us/blog/project-iceworm-americas-secret-nuke-tunnels-beneath-greenlands-ice/

[85] https://outrider.org/nuclear-weapons/articles/project-iceworm

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[87] https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2018/01/23/50-years-ago-a-b-52-crashed-in-greenland-with-4-nuclear-bombs-on-board/

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[91] Jussi M. Hanhimäki, Odd Arne Westad, “The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts”, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 300-301

[92] Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Washington D.C., 28 March 1968, pp. 19, 29

[93] https://hibakusha-worldwide.org/en/locations/thule

[94] https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-military-seeks-to-outmuscle-u-s-in-arctic-11621935002

[95] https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/JIPA/Display/Article/2820739/the-polar-trap-china-russia-and-american-power-in-the-arctic-and-antarctica/

[96] http://english.scio.gov.cn/2017-06/21/content_41069066.htm

[97] https://www.diis.dk/en/research/china-in-greenland

[98] https://www.mining-technology.com/projects/kvanefjeld-rare-earth-uranium-project/

[99] https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/JIPA/Display/Article/2820750/chinas-polar-silk-road-implications-for-the-arctic-region/

[100] https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/JIPA/Display/Article/2820739/the-polar-trap-china-russia-and-american-power-in-the-arctic-and-antarctica/

[101] https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/JIPA/Display/Article/2820750/chinas-polar-silk-road-implications-for-the-arctic-region/

[102] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-arctic-insight-idUSKBN15E0W0

[103] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/new-arctic-thawing-rapidly-circle-work-oil

[104] https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/science/earth/arctic-resources-exposed-by-warming-set-off-competition.html

[105] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-rareearth-explainer-idUSKCN1T00EK

[106] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/28/greenland-narsaq-uranium-mine-dividing-town

[107] https://archive.ph/F01L7

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[112] https://ggg.gl/partner/

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[114] https://www.marketscreener.com/quote/stock/SHENGHE-RESOURCES-HOLDING-9949770/company/

[115] https://www.marketscreener.com/quote/stock/SHENGHE-RESOURCES-HOLDING-9949770/company/

[116] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-27/the-californian-rare-earths-mine-caught-between-trump-and-china

[117] https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/08/22/tom-cotton-proposed-greenland-sale-trump-met-denmark-report/2081531001/

[118] https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/08/20/trump-cancels-meeting-danish-pm-over-reaction-greenland-offer/2068035001/

[119] https://www.forbes.com/sites/timtreadgold/2019/08/19/trump-might-want-to-buy-greenland-but-his-nemesis-china-is-there-before-him/

[120] https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20210407-left-wing-party-opposed-to-rare-earth-mining-project-wins-greenland-election

[121] http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/supply-of-uranium.aspx

[122] https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/greenland-bans-uranium-mining-halting-rare-earths-project-2021-11-10/

[123] https://www.mining-technology.com/news/greenland-cancels-general-nice-isua-iron-ore-project-licence/

[124] https://miningglobal.com/company-reports/general-nice-development

[125] https://phys.org/news/2014-10-uk-bankruptcy-slump-ebola.html

[126] http://www.china.org.cn/world/Off_the_Wire/2015-01/10/content_34522663.htm

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[129] Dwayne Ryan Menezes, “The Case for a Five Eyes Critical Minerals Alliance – Focus on Greenland”, Polar Research and Policy Initiative, March 2021, pp. 8-9

[130] Dwayne Ryan Menezes, “The Case for a Five Eyes Critical Minerals Alliance – Focus on Greenland”, Polar Research and Policy Initiative, March 2021, p. 13

[131] https://naalakkersuisut.gl/en/Naalakkersuisut/News/2021/05/0705_mineaktiviteter

[132] https://polarjournal.ch/2020/06/22/groenlands-nationalfeiertag-im-zeichen-der-rassismusdebatte/

[133] https://web.archive.org/web/20090628203930/http://eu.nanoq.gl/Emner/About%20Greenland/Politics%20in%20Greenland.aspx

[134] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7749427.stm

[135] https://popups.uliege.be/1374-3864/index.php?id=1892

[136] Göcke K., “The 2008 Referendum on Greenland’s Autonomy and What It Means for Greenland’s Future”, Heidelberg Journal of International Law, vol. 69, n°1, 2009, pp. 107-109; Ackrén M., “Diplomacy and Paradiplomacy in the North Atlantic and the Arctic – A Comparative Approach” in Finger M. and Heininen L. (eds.), The Global Arctic Handbook, Switzerland, Springer, 2018, p. 241

[137] Ackrén M., “Island Autonomies – Constitutional and Political Developments” in Karlhofer F. and Pallaver G. (eds.), Federal Power-Sharing in Europe, Baden-Baden, Nomos, 2017, p. 237

[138] https://www.clingendael.org/pub/2020/presence-before-power/4-greenland-what-is-china-doing-there-and-why/

[139] https://isdp.eu/danish-concerns-chinese-investment-greenland/

[140] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-greenland-idUSKCN1LQ2BX

[141] https://www.arctictoday.com/us-greenland-reach-agreement-on-thule-air-base-contract-long-a-source-of-dispute/

[142] https://www.arctictoday.com/us-greenland-reach-agreement-on-thule-air-base-contract-long-a-source-of-dispute/ ; https://naalakkersuisut.gl/en/Naalakkersuisut/News/2020/10/2810_pituffik ; https://naalakkersuisut.gl/~/media/Nanoq/Files/Attached%20Files/Udenrigsdirektoratet/Pituffik/Common%20Plan%20for%20US%20Greenland%20Cooperation.pdf

[143] https://www.arctictoday.com/a-year-into-bidens-presidency-u-s-military-plans-for-greenland-remain-unclear/

[144] https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/35899/russia-is-extending-the-runway-at-its-arctic-base-could-support-tactical-jets-bombers

[145] https://www.tellerreport.com/news/2021-12-07-new-radar-forces-faroe-islands-to-take-a-stand—nato-or-russia-.BJVyAELptt.html

[146] https://www.nga.mil/news/NGA_completes_Arctic_DEM_project_producing_elevati.html

[147] https://skiesmag.com/news/norad-completes-largest-amalgam-dart/

[148] https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/ironbark-secures-funding-zinc-mine-northeastern-greenland ; exim.gov/about ; https://ironbark.gl/corporate/corporate-directory/

[149] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/11/09/2021-24488/2021-draft-list-of-critical-minerals#:~:text=On%20behalf%20of%20the%20Secretary,barite%2C%20beryllium%2C%20bismuth%2C%20cerium ; https://www.reuters.com/article/chinanonferrous-ipo-idAFL4E7MT1FB20111129 ; https://www.abnnewswire.net/press/en/89519/Ironbark-Zinc-Limited-%28ASX-IBG%29-Citronen-Base-Metal-Project-Update-89519.html

[150] Joachim Weber, “Handbook on Geopolitics and Security in the Arctic: The High North Between Cooperation and Confrontation”, Springer Nature, 2020, pp. 122-23

[151] https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/05741943 ; http://data.companieshouse.gov.uk/doc/company/05741943

[152] Linda Jakobson and Seong-Hyon Lee, “The North East Asian States’ Interests in the Arctic and Possible Cooperation with the Kingdom of Denmark”, Report prepared for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, April 2013, p. 10 ; https://magazine.caixin.com/2011-11-18/100329053.html

[153] https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/greenland-and-us-agree-improved-cooperation-thule-air-base

[154] https://dk.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/95/Common-Plan-for-U.S.-Greenland-Cooperation-1.pdf

[155] https://dk.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/95/Common-Plan-for-U.S.-Greenland-Cooperation-1.pdf

[156] https://oec.world/en/profile/country/grl

[157] https://oec.world/en/profile/country/grl?tradeScaleSelector1=tradeScale0

[158] https://www.imago-images.de/fotos-bilder/aaja-chemnitz-larsen

[159] https://www.privacyshield.gov/article?id=Denmark-Doing-Business-in-Greenland

[160] https://www.altinget.dk/artikel/groenlands-landsstyreformand-vaeltet-som-partiformand

[161] https://demokraatit.gl/

[162] https://www.berlingske.dk/danmark/groenlandsk-parlament-godkender-historisk-lufthavnspakke

[163] https://glsamf.iatuagaq.iserasuaat.gl/?id=203

[164] https://ia.gl/da/

[165] https://www.dw.com/en/greenland-left-wing-inuit-ataqatigiit-party-wins-election/a-57118506

[166] https://sermitsiaq.ag/lufthavnspakkentaettere-selvstaendighed-laengere

[167] https://www.ft.dk/medlemmer/mf/a/aaja-chemnitz-larsen

[168] https://folkemoedet.dk/om-folkemodet/nyheder/aaja-chemnitz-larsen-modtager-folkemodets-dialogpris-2021/

[169] https://publichealthreviews.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40985-018-0085-8

[170] https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/greenland-wants-take-lead-we-have-pick-right-friends

[171] https://www.arcticcircle.org/assemblies/2021-arctic-circle-assembly

[172] https://www.arcticcircle.org/assemblies/2021-arctic-circle-assembly

[173] https://www.thenewfederalist.eu/23rd-february-1982-the-day-greenland-left-the-european-union?lang=fr

[174] https://www.thenewfederalist.eu/23rd-february-1982-the-day-greenland-left-the-european-union?lang=fr

[175] “Treaty amending, with regard to Greenland, the Treaties establishing the European Communities”, Official Journal of the European Communities, 1 February 1985, p. 7

[176] https://naalakkersuisut.gl/en/Naalakkersuisut/Greenland-Representation-to-the-EU/European-Union-and-Greenland/Partnership-Agreement

[177] https://www.kas.de/en/web/nordische/single-title/-/content/researcher-the-eu-isn-t-good-enough-at-drawing-attention-to-its-contribution-to-greenland

[178] “Joint Declaration by the European Union, on the one hand, and the Government of Greenland and the Government of Denmark, on the other, on relations between the European Union and Greenland”, 19 March 2015, p. 3

[179] https://www.ligurianautica.com/eventi-e-fiere/scioglimento-dei-ghiacci-il-punto-di-non-ritorno-si-avvicina-video/14833/

[180] https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2_en_act_part1_v7.pdf

[181] https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/arctic-still-one-big-happy-family-three-children-are-put-shame

[182] https://geopolitique.eu/en/2021/11/08/the-unions-new-arctic-policy-towards-an-increasingly-geopolitical-approach/

[183] https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/arctic-still-one-big-happy-family-three-children-are-put-shame

[184] https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en

[185] https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/01/1109352

[186] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/30/greenland-ice-sheet-florida-water-climate-crisis

[187] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/13/greenland-ice-sheet-melting-fridtjof-nansen

[188] https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aav9396#:~:text=REFERENCES%20AND%20NOTES-,Abstract,led%20to%20accelerated%20mass%20loss.&text=We%20find%20that%20Greenland%20could,45%25%20of%20total%20mass%20loss

[189] https://sealevel.nasa.gov/news/178/greenlands-rapid-melt-will-mean-more-flooding#:~:text=%22On%20current%20trends%2C%20Greenland%20ice,rise%20exacerbates%20events%20like%20hurricanes.

[190] https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/why-we-may-be-able-save-greenland-ice-sheet ;  https://www.regimeshifts.org/what-is-a-regime-shift

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