The long road of diplomacy: The cooperation between Greenland & the United States

Written by: Minister of Education, Culture, Church and Foreign Affairs, Ane Lone Bagger

“Like all other countries, our country wants international cooperation, both bilaterally with individual countries and through international organizations and other multilateral cooperation. For several years, Naalakkersuisut/The Government of Greenland has worked to establish greater cooperation with countries that are important to our country, with the aim of securing Greenland's interests and views.

This is the reason why our country opened our first Representation in Brussels in 1992 and later in 2014 the Representation in Washington, D.C. and the Representation in Reykjavik followed in 2018. Through these initiatives, we have worked purposefully to develop our working relationship with the rest of the world, in order to be able to safeguard, protect and articulate our interests. Each year, Naalakkersuisut publishes a foreign policy report that highlights Greenland's foreign policy work and interests.

I have close and good political cooperation with my colleague, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. There is also a good cooperation on the administrative level between Nuuk and Copenhagen. Though it is important that it is our own professional diplomats, with deep insights into our society and political reality and with roots in our language and culture, who represent our country abroad.

Our own Representations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nuuk work closely together and in coordination with the Danish diplomats at the embassies and at the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen. In this collaboration, our own diplomats are to be considered as the necessary quality assurance in the foreign policy cooperation between Greenland and Denmark, in order to safeguard Greenland's interests in the Kingdom's overall foreign policy.

Arctic policy:

As noted, the Arctic and our country have become more interesting to international players. We saw this back in 2008, when foreign ministers from major countries, such as the United States and Russia, traveled to Ilulissat to sign the Ilulissat Declaration, the agreement that should secure the Arctic as a peaceful part of the world, with widespread political and economic cooperation between the Arctic states.

The Ilulissat Declaration was reaffirmed in 2018, again with our country as an active host. There should be no doubt here that a peaceful and cooperative Arctic will always be the goal of Naalakkersuisut/The Government of Greenland.

However, we must not be blind to the ongoing political developments in the Arctic and it is therefore important that we actively participate in the dialogue about the Arctic. Naturally, with a decisive voice in the Arctic foreign policy of the Kingdom of Denmark, including in terms of the Arctic Council.

There has been a change in the Arctic in recent decades, due to among other things, climate change, with consequences of open sailing routes and more activity in the mineral industry sector and tourism. There have also been changes in relations between the great powers over the last decade, although this is primarily manifested outside the Arctic.

We are though not blind to the signs of increased militarization in the Arctic as it develops these years. However, we must also remember that the increased civilian activity in the Arctic can also lead to increased military presence, including search and rescue missions and environmental monitoring.

The changes in the Arctic are not in any way only affairs of the great powers, but are in particular a matter for us who call the Arctic our home. We must therefore secure, that we who live in the Arctic are the ones to define and represent the Arctic, as well as benefit from the opportunities that the changes in the Arctic may bring, both in terms of political and climatic changes.

Much attention has been paid to the central geographical location of our country, or perhaps a new focus has been placed on this fact. In recent years we have seen how this has resulted in several visits by senior officials from the US administration in particular. It has been their first visit to our country for most of these traveling officials, but it is not the first time we had to present the goals and plans of the Government of Greenland on our country's position and economy.

Cooperation with the United States:

Our representation in Washington, D.C. has worked to promote trade, cooperation and exchange since its opening in 2014. In addition to this, the representation promotes the views and interests of Greenland to various American stakeholders, within the diplomatic activities of the Kingdom’s Embassy on Whitehaven Street in Washington D.C.

The Government of Greenland wants to further develop trade with the United States and this desire has been promoted since the signing of the Igaliku Agreement in 2004. The Igaliku Agreement is a set of agreements that define, among other things, the American military presence at Pituffik (Thule), as well as a broad-based US-Greenland civil partnership, an agreement signed on behalf of our country by the then Government of Greenland minister for foreign affairs.

However, it takes time to develop close relationships, and the Igaliku Agreement did not bear fruit from one day to another. Although the development of the cooperation has required time, we consider the new projected cooperation with the United States as a step in the right direction.

Naalakkersuisut, especially through the Representation in Washington D.C., has also succeeded in establishing closer relationships not only with the US federal government, but also directly with states such as Maine and Alaska. This cooperation with individual states is quite natural, where Maine is particularly relevant due to its geographical proximity, with the consequent chances of trade. Similarly, cooperation with Alaska is obvious, not only because both Greenland and Alaska are part of the Arctic, but also because we have strong cultural and linguistic ties to our kinsmen in Alaska.

Furthermore, we have developed relations to members of the US Congress who have visited our country and who influence US foreign policy priorities.

We have thus established relationships with people in the United States who highly prioritizes cooperation with Greenland. We have worked purposefully to present and promote the opportunities in our country among our neighbors in the West, and continuously give presentations on our activities aimed at growth and to achieve a self-sustaining economy in Greenland.

Our business community has also focused on developing relationships with the United States, where the shipping line Royal Arctic Line's cooperation with Eimskip in particular has great potential. The seafood company Royal Greenland has also opened a sales office in Boston, just over an hour's drive from Maine. Overall, these positive developments within our business community will achieve closer trade with the geographically neighboring market in North America.

Collaboration and mutual benefits – Pituffik (Thule Air Base)

The Government of Greenland, together with the Danish government, has worked to ensure the greatest possible benefits to Greenland from the US military presence in our country. Here, in particular, the base maintenance contract at Pituffik (Thule) is the core of our relations, and we have repeatedly expressed this to the United States, including at meetings directly with American politicians and officials.

There is a clear renewed US interest in our country, including with regard to dual-use investments in our infrastructure.

Naalakkersuisut/The Government of Greenland's requirement is that the cooperation and relationship must first and foremost come together with a proper solution concerning the base maintenance contract at Pituffik (Thule).

A solution to the contract issue must here be regarded as a basic premise in the cooperation. It must thus be a solution that is naturally linked to Pituffik, as well as having a real substantial economic value for our country and which, last and not least, is future-proofed.

Cooperation also in the field of minerals:

It is common knowledge that Naalakkersuisut/Government of Greenland is constantly working to create an economically sustainable Greenland, where we are not dependent on just one or two sources of income. Today, as you may be aware, we are financially dependent mainly on fishing industry as well as the yearly block grant from the Danish Government. Our efforts to achieve our goal on economic sustainability includes development of tourism industry, export of our clean glacial water, and development of the mineral sector.

However, there is nothing new into the American interest in our minerals. The US market has previously been important to the Greenlandic mineral industry, where especially the cryolite mine in Ivittuut from very early in the mine's lifetime in the 1800’s had the US as a crucial market. We now see a renewed American interest in the geology of Greenland.

It is also important to observe that this has been a lengthy process, as the US Department of State’s work to support the development of the mineral sector in Greenland started during the previous US administration, when the United States had the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. It was also around the same time that we opened our representation in the United States.

It should be emphasized that Naalakkersuisut always works for Greenland's interests. Cooperation is a joint effort, naturally with mutual benefits and there is nothing odious or mysterious about the United States interest in our country's minerals. However, this willingness on our part to cooperate with our great neighbor in the West does not in any way mean that other nations are excluded from cooperating with us.

We are open to cooperation with all nations, and this includes cooperation in the mineral sector. Nevertheless, cooperation and foreign investment in the mineral sector will of course only take place with the clear condition, that our legislation and standards are fully complied with.

It is in our interest as well as the United States that we are good neighbors, including through an offer of cooperation in the form of development initiatives within our mineral sector. The process of this recently announced collaboration started as early as 2015, but only last year in June 2019 did specific results come in the form of the two aforementioned memoranda of understanding.

Based on these memoranda of understanding, flight-based geological surveys were conducted during last summer in South Greenland. This was a project in collaboration with the United States, paid for by US project funds, but where the data collected will be made available to the public.

Collaboration and good relations:

Our ministries and associated institutions, together with the US State Department, are in the process of developing in details the new cooperation, amounting to a total value of approximately $12.1 million USD. The cooperation is conducted in areas of competence where Greenland has full jurisdiction, including but not limited to education, business, energy and minerals.

Finally, I wish to express that this new aspect of our natural cooperation with our great neighbor in the West will be mutually beneficial, and contribute to our country's further economic development and good relations with the United States.”