It's Not So Absurd To Want Greenland

It's Not So Absurd To Want Greenland

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."


So is the idea of buying Greenland really absurd? Well, yes, in the sense that in today's world countries generally don't operate like real estate developers, buying and selling each other's territory. And even if Denmark wanted to sell Greenland, which it rules only nominally, it's not clear it actually could do so without Greenland's approval.

But wanting to buy Greenland isn't absurd at all. The Truman administration even looked into it in the 1940s, when it was seen as an Arctic chess piece in the Cold War. The US has had an airbase there since World War Two.

Today, the reasons are different, and they have a lot to do with one thing: climate change. There are huge reserves of gas, metals, oil, and rare earth elements underneath all that Arctic ice, to which Greenland lays some claim. As global warming thaws Greenland's glaciers faster and faster, those resources will become more accessible. At the same time, less polar ice means lucrative new Arctic shipping lanes are opening up – China and Russia are already angling to dominate those passages.

And that's another reason the US might be interested in Greenland: China, Washington's "strategic competitor," is already there. In recent years, Beijing has been cutting big checks to the island, including buying a significant stake in a big rare earths mining project and offering to build new airports.

A few hundred million dollars of foreign investment makes a huge impact on an economy as small and underdeveloped as Greenland's. The US has leaned on Denmark to undermine China's investment drive, but Washington has no comparable effort to win hearts and minds there.

So there are plenty of good reasons to want more influence in Greenland. But by assuming that the island was for sale when no one ever said it was, and then antagonizing his Danish counterpart for rebuffing him, Trump took a sensible idea – closer ties with a strategically and economically important island – and turned it into a counterproductive diplomatic circus that may in fact undermine Washington's ability to get what it wants.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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