September 10, 2004

Thule base key to Greenlandís independence

“We have to swallow pretty large sized camels to achieve our goals”


NUUK — Greenland had no choice but to support the U.S. missile defence plan because without the U.S. backing, Greenland will never become independent.

Caught between “a rock and a hard place,” Mikaela Engel, Greenland’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, said Greenland needed a strong connection with a country other than Denmark and is caught between “a rock and a hard place.”

“We have to swallow pretty large-sized camels to achieve our goals,” she said.

That’s why the home rule government decided to let the U.S. go ahead with its controversial upgrade of the radar at the Thule air base in northern Greenland, which is an important link in the missile defence shield.

“The overarching goal for everyone now in Greenland is self-government, so every action that supports self-government is considered on the right track,” Engel said.

Engel said the home rule government wanted to hold on to Greenland’s role as a strategic point in the Arctic. If Greenland had opposed the Thule upgrade, then the U.S. might have closed down the base entirely and headed off to Canada.

“Take the base off, and we would lose any interest for the Americans,” she said.

And Greenland would miss out on a chance to collaborate with its “big neighbour” on other issues, as well.

However, Engel admits the package of deals Greenland signed last month with the U.S., which pave the way for the upgrade and missile defense collaboration, isn’t perfect: the U.S. didn’t agree to clean up 60 sites in Greenland that are contaminated with debris or waste.

“We would have liked to see the Americans clean this all up,” Engel said.

But the desire for self-government was stronger than the opposition to agreement.

“The basic feeling was ‘No way, José: we’re not going to allow this,’” Engel said. “[But] We’re living on pocket money from Denmark. We can’t go on doing that if we want to be a self-governing country,” Engel said.