Monday, July 27, 2020

Greenland Impacts World Politics

18 July 2020

Less than 60,000 Inuits Impacting Global Politics

By: Karsten Riise

The political developments concerning the 56,000 Inuits who self-govern Greenland within the Realm of Denmark, are routinely overlooked in all the international media-attention on the Arctic. This is a big mistake.
The Arctic is rising fast on the strategic radar of global power politics for objective reasons - including new strategic searoutes and the guaranteed emergence the next 80 years of an ice-free land-surface of  more than 2 million (20% the size of the USA).

The Inuits are accelerating their drive for independence and recognition of Greenland as a new state. Two facts illustrate how Inuit drive for independence is now quickly gaining speed this year. Definitely, Pres. Trump's attempt to buy Greenland chock-speeded this up. In my analysis, that deal was already secretly settled between Pres. Trump with Denmark's PM Mette Frederiksen and Queen Margrethe II -  but the deal was thwarted by a strong and quick Inuit reaction when this perspective was disclosed and PM Mette Frederiksen was forced to officially back-pedal as fast as she could. Such a prospective deal, even in a Trumpian world, is not opened to the media before it has been basically agreed under-hand. Pres. Trump only reason for visiting Denmark was to finish that deal, and he immediately cancelled his journey, openly stating he had no reason to visit Denmark, now the deal was stalled.  Right after, USA chose to forcefully work for the same de-facto goal, a US monopoly-control of Greenland, just along other avenues, ramping up a brand-new diplomatic presence and activity in Greenland.

In my observation, it was a shake-up for the Inuits, that Denmark might have been willing to sell-out Greenland, dealing with the Inuits as parts of land in what in Pres. Trump's world-view was "essentially a real-estate deal" (Trump's words). The Inuits have for decades been working steadily for independence, but the developments this year have forced a totally new speed on Inuit independence drive.

On the formal level, the Government of Greenland has officially set down a commission to develop a constitution for an independent Greeland, and Inuit politicians seem pressing the work on this issue. 

On the public level, the recent weeks saw something completely new and eye-brow raising: Paint-attacks on two statues of Hans Egede, Denmark's preacher-colonizer. First, Hans Egede's statue on a prominent place overlooking Nuuk was attacked. Only a few days later, Hans Egede's statue outside the royal cathedral in Copenhagen was attacked. In both cases, the statues were painted with a single word in big red letters: DECOLONIZE.

On the political level, high-profile Inuit politicians expressed sympathy for the sentiments behind the attack on Hans Egede's statue in Greenland, openly stating that Hans Egede's statue does not belong in Nuuk and should be removed. 

I have followed these developments quite closely, and over time I have supplied perspectives for Greenland's perspective in communication through a political pivot in Greenland. Therefore, I immediately and strongly sounded the alarm to Nuuk, when the USA proposed to buy Greenland, that Inuits should not "wait-and-see" one single minute, but would have to react immediately and with maximum force, which they did. That reaction - and only that - stalled the deal. This has definitely made me an unliked topic among powerful circles in Denmark and the USA.

These developments should interest an international audience. First of all, it is globally strategic, as mentioned. But furthermore, many of us share an inclination to develop theories, how to manage strategic challenges. And to me, this is a not only emotionally but also intellectually a challenge worth-while to take up: Scenarios on how this situation may develop, and how it may be managed, especially not only by the most powerful state-actors with their plethora of options - but in particular by the smaller actor with less resources and room for maneuver, the 56,000 people Inuit community.  

Let there be no doubt, that though I tend to believe that the world in general needs countries to move closer and not to split-up, Greenland has special geographic, historic, cultural and legal foundations to have indepence, and Greenland definitely can and should go this way.  I support the Inuits. The question is how for Greenland to proceed towards independence, with Greenlandic financial dependence on a yearly block-grant of more than USD ½ billion from Denmark, US power all around, and VERY delicate global security issues (to put it mildly). To complicate things even more, key positions in Greenland's society are staffed by expat Danes, including police leadership, top Government officials. And a lot of other vital cultural and economic functions are also controlled by Danes. This is recently documented by a Ph.D power-analysis of Who-is-Who in Greenland:

Political focus in Greenland seems to be to speed up the drive for indepence, and prepare the official parts, incl. a constitution. But independence cannot but create enormous stresses and deep, fundamental changes in Inuit society, which may even question the future of their way of life. This can be elaborated in a separate analysis, but to put it shortly, though the Inuits are prepared with a lot of human capital, Inuit society as it has been until now, may perhaps still not be internationally competitive and economically sustainable on its own footing without deep and very fundamental changes. In other words, independence may incur chocks and earthquakes in society there, which better MUST be analyzed and prepared for beforehand, to achieve a socially acceptable transition.

It is easy for me to check-out the Greenlandic media from time-to-time, because all the general news in Greenland's society are accessible in Danish. Following these events in the public media in Greenland, in my optic the thorny issues of independence are definitely not sufficiently raised and discussed in Greenland - perhaps out of a political deliberation not to slow-down the drive for independence by raising problematic issues. In such a situation it might be tempting to hope to be able to handle the challenges of independence afterwards "as they come", once formal independence has been achieved. However, analyzing the very big challenges and also comparing with a lot of relevant historic experience of events connected with the independence of quite a number of other de-colonizing societies, such an approach may turn out to be problematic. My executive organizational background of managing change within organizations supports my view. 

No matter how this develops, the political and social dynamics among a society of less than 60,000 Inuits now have important impacts on global politics.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor