Greenland: The Next Energy Superpower?

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In this summer of split-screen conflict, the world is focused on protests in Teheran and preparations for missile tests in Pyongyang - two reasons not to notice an event that might presage a new natural resource order for the 21st Century.

Today in tiny Nuuk, capital city of Greenland - population 17,000; less than the size of the entourage following Tiger Woods from tee to green in the U.S. Open - Greenlanders are celebrating Namminersorneq, Innuit for Self-Governance Day.

Long governed as a territory of Denmark, today marks Greenland's transition to a form of expanded Home-Rule. To be sure, the new status is a good step short of true sovereignty, but the logic is clear enough: following forward from today, what will Home Rule mean if it does not bring with it rights pertaining to the vast resource riches under Greenland's ice and soil? Will Home Rule be limited to a shovel's length into a Greenlander's garden, or will it extend to deeper depths as is the case for sovereign nations elsewhere?

The largest island on Earth that is not itself a continent, Greenland is home to 58,000 inhabitants - and a treasure trove of resources, ranging from oil and gas to uranium, molybdenum, platinum, coal, gold and diamonds. In resource terms, that makes Greenland as a stand-alone state something akin to Saudi Arabia - save that the Saudis are a uni-dimensional resource superpower, shackled for better or worse to the petro-economy. Greenland today subsists largely on its shrimp, salmon and cod fishing industries, supplemented by transfer payments from Denmark, which amount to nearly half of its government revenues. Take it as given that an independent Greenland will harness its economic future to its resource sector.

Greenland's new step toward independence comes as its neighbors - Norway, Canada, the U.S., and Russia - have taken a new interest in the Arctic region's resource potential. Europe's East-West conflict, revived by a resurgent Russia, is likely to play itself out on the northern front. Will Greenland, a de facto NATO nation via its status as a Danish territory (the U.S. has maintained Thule Air Base on the northwest side of the island less than 1,000 miles from the North Pole since 1941), see its future security interests aligned with NATO - and will NATO offer an independent Greenland full alliance membership? Russia, in its latest strategic military forecast, avers that military conflict over resources is a possibility for which it is prepared. This conjures a scenario when a future president orders American troops into a "blood for oil" conflict north of the Arctic Circle.

For its own part, Greenland may see the great game of nation-states as an alien concept. Few Greenlanders see themselves as Danes or even speak the language. The vast majority is Inuit, and even now, members of the new Greenlandic government also claim membership in the ICC - the Inuit Circumpolar Conference - which links Inuit cultures in Greenland, Canada, the United States (Alaska) and Russia. These trans-national ties of kin and culture stretch back eons before the relatively recent lines on today's maps. Will Greenland's growing independence - twinned to a growing control over its resource wealth - encourage Inuit elsewhere to assert autonomy? How will their host nations react - and how will contending nations with their own resource agendas exploit Greenlandic tensions and fissures? On Day one of the new Greenland, no clear answers exist.

Five hundred years ago, the famed cartographer Olaus Magnus depicted Greenland as a mysterious land, ringed with spike-headed sea snakes sailors hoped were merely mythical. In geo-political terms, Greenland has remained a mystery at the map's edge ever since. That begins to change today, as the Arctic island takes the first step towards remaking the world's resource map in ways that could well affect the rise and fall of the global powers in the 21st Century.

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