Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Focus

What Trump means for the Arctic

  • The Obama administration’s course was often in line with the wishes of Copenhagen and Nuuk and meshed with the Kingdom of Denmark’s Arctic strategy (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Under president Donald Trump, Thule Air Base, located in the far north of Greenland, is likely to take on renewed significance for America’s defence. Greenland’s vast landmass, right on the top of the American continent, is an important strategic buffer for the US against China, North Korea, Russia and Iran.

A brief glance at the globe will illustrate how the US Air Force’s radar installation at Thule forms a vital part of its defence against intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Washington has been at the head of an effort to place restrictions on fishing in the central part of the Arctic Ocean (Photo: Silje Bergum Kinsten/norden.org)

Trump has expressed his desire to develop a more robust missile-defence system.

Cantech Letters, a Canadian technology news outlet, predicts that the Pentagon will seek to increase its presence in the High North by building more radar and communications installations, and by stationing more air-force and naval units in the region.

All of these elements will find support at the Thule base: it has the only deep-water port in the region; it has two 3,000 metre-long, all-weather runways, where even the largest US bombers can land; and - most importantly - it is home to advanced radar and satellite installations.

These installations are directly linked to the US Air Force’s Space Command, in Colorado, which Trump’s advisors have pointed to as the heart of an improved missile-defence system.

Thule Air Base

For the devolved government in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, such a development would mean that Thule Air Base and Greenland itself suddenly become more important to Washington.

Greenland’s decision makers and their colleagues in Copenhagen will now have to analyse what effect this will have not just on their complex relations with the US, but also on Russia’s appreciation of the Danish kingdom’s role in the Arctic.

Greenland also has a more immediate interest in the lucrative base-service contract which, after being held for 40 years by a Danish-Greenlandic firm, was lost to Exelis, a subsidiary of an American firm, in 2014.

Nuuk calculates that this loss will cost Greenland approximately €20 million a year in lost revenue and taxes. This is a significant amount in Greenland and has forced Nuuk onto the offensive, as it seeks to convince Washington to pay some other form of compensation for the use of Greenland’s territory.

The issue is so high on the list of priorities for Naalakkersuisut, the elected government in Nuuk, that Kim Kielsen, the premier, brought it up already in his official letter of congratulations to Trump.

“Naalakkersuisut looks forward to continuing co-operation and negotiations on how we can ensure that Greenland’s contribution to the defence partnership can be modernised”, he said.

As many European governments will realise, Greenland is struggling uphill.

The US has traditionally refused to pay any rent on land for its bases abroad, preferring instead to frame the issue as one of mutual efforts to secure peace and stability. Danish diplomats, still responsible for Greenland’s sovereignty and for its security affairs, are working hard to find a compromise.

If Thule Air Base becomes significantly more important for the US, Nuuk might be able to squeeze more money of Washington, but it will not be easy: the Pentagon is already sceptical of Nuuk’s evaluation of the impact of its loss of the base-service contract, and there is no traceable optimism that that this would change under a Trump administration.

As Inuuteq Holm Olsen, Greenland’s representative in Washington, noted in Sermitsiaq, a weekly in Greenland, Trump has shown little respect for native people: “He has put down senator Elizabeth Warren, whom he calls Pocahontas because of her Native American heritage.”

America first

Trump’s America-first attitude has caused worry. Speaking to Arctic Deeply, a Canada-based news outlet, Rob Hubert, of the University of Calgary, reckoned that “this means that the support of the Arctic Council, which has been one of the major elements of the Obama administration, will decrease”.

It is easy to underestimate how significant this would be. Copenhagen and Nuuk are conscious of the fact that much of the Kingdom of Denmark’s influence in the Arctic stems from its place in the Arctic Council.

The council gives all its members, regardless of size, an equal say and decisions are only taken if the indigenous peoples support them (the EU is still waiting for a new status as a permanent observer to the Arctic body).

For most of its 20-year history, getting Washington to fully involve itself in the council’s work has been a struggle. This changed in 2011 when Hillary Clinton became the first US secretary of state to attend an Arctic Council meeting.

Her successor, John Kerry, took part in council meetings in 2013, in Kiruna, and 2015, in Iqaluit. Also in 2015, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Alaska and villages north of the Arctic Circle.

He sat down with representatives from the entire Arctic, including the Danish and Greenlandic foreign ministers, and six months later, Kerry visited Greenland, emphasising the significance of the three-way relationship.

Global warming

The Obama administration’s interest in the Arctic has, by and large, been guided by concerns about global warming, while Trump has made plain his scepticism in the scientific consensus that climate change is being caused by mankind.

Mia Bennet, an American academic and author of Cryopolitics, an Arctic blog, has noted that Trump has selected Myron Ebell, a climate-change sceptic, to become the next head of Washington’s Environmental Protection Agency.

William Moomaw, from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the US and an expert on climate, was, according to ArcticDeeply, equally pessimistic: “President Trump will undermine most attempts to address climate change, and the US will become a drag on the future development of the Paris accord [a global deal to slow rising temperatures]. This has devastating consequences for the Arctic.”

The future of the Arctic is determined by the balance between those whose main concern is climate change and protection of the environment, and those who are focused on commercial exploitation of its riches, whether oil, gas, minerals, fish, or arctic bio-tech and shipping lane opportunities.

The Obama’s course was often in line with the wishes of Copenhagen and Nuuk and meshed with Denmark’s Arctic strategy.

The US under president Obama has had its focus on sustainable economic development in the Arctic; a path which Greenland has worked hard to pave.

Since taking over as chair of the Arctic Council in 2015, Washington has used it to inform Americans about global warming, and to make gains for indigenous peoples in the Arctic and in Alaska in areas such as health, climate adaptation and telecommunications. Internationally, the US has lobbied for improved efforts to protect the oceans.

The Obama administration will also be remembered for placing such strict limitations on offshore oil and gas exploration in America’s Arctic that it led Shell and other oil firms to stop their activities there.

Washington is at the head of an effort to place restrictions on fishing in the central part of the Arctic Ocean until scientists figure out how receding sea ice affects fish stocks. This initiative has the warm support of all parts of Denmark.

A final deal on fish stocks that includes China, Japan, the EU and South Korea may be reached in Torshavn in the Faroe Islands this week.

We know little about what precise targets a Trump administration will pursue in these Arctic matters, but we do know that Donald Trump is sceptical about global warming, that he is in favour of rolling back restrictions on oil and gas in Alaska and its offshore zones, and that he has shown little interest in the Arctic peoples welfare.

Martin Breum is a Danish journalist, author of ‘The Greenland Dilemma’. He writes regularly on Arctic affairs for media in Denmark, Greenland and Norway

EU's Arctic policy targets environment, Russia

Eight years in the making, the EU's new Arctic strategy focuses on environmental issues and speaks of "selective engagement" with Russia despite the Ukraine war.

Russia re-submits Arctic claims to UN

Russia Tuesday announced it had submitted a revised application to the UN seeking the expansion of its Arctic shelf border, rich in oil and other natural resources.

Clinton: Arctic Council enters new era

The Arctic Council - a forum of eight countries with territory in the polar region - has agreed its first legally-binding agreement, marking it out as a burgeoning decision-making arena at a time when global interest in the region is spiraling.

MEPs reject ban on Arctic oil drilling

Following pressure from Norway, MEPs voted down controversial proposals calling for a ban on the oil business in the Barents sea.

Trump says US could stay in Paris deal

President Donald Trump hinted that the US could 'conceivably' stay in the Paris climate change agreement, during a meeting in which Norway's PM pointed out the sales of US-made Tesla electric cars in her country.

Opinion

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

Supported by

News in Brief

  1. Germany confirms attendance at air quality summit
  2. Nearly half of 'fixed' Dieselgate cars show problems
  3. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook up hate speech deletion
  4. UK mulls bridge to France
  5. German far-right float anti-asylum bill
  6. EU Parliament to investigate glyphosate-decision process
  7. 'Mutagenesis' falls outside EU's GMO rules, says EU top lawyer
  8. Decision on Polish MEP's Nazi-era slur postponed

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on the agenda This WEEK
  2. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  3. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  4. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  5. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  6. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names
  7. EU to lend Greece up to €7bn more next week
  8. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  2. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  3. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  4. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  5. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  8. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  9. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  10. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives