Protecting Greenland’s external borders is one of the few areas for which Denmark is responsible. Greenland has created appropriate structures for this purpose, including the Joint Arctic Commando. But a statement by Greenland’s new foreign minister, Pele Broberg, made both Copenhagen and other Arctic states sit up and take notice. He envisages a separate coast guard similar to the one in Iceland. A hot potato, not only for Denmark, but also for Russia and the US.
In an interview with the newspaper Sermitsiaq, Broberg said that Greenland was aiming to establish its own coast guard, but that, as in Iceland, it would not be subordinate to the military but would be a civilian authority. “The Arctic Council, for example, has the Coast Guard Forum, of which the US and Iceland are members. If Greenland has its own coast guard, we can also be part of the forum,” he said. As a civilian agency, the coast guard could be attached to the Justice Ministry, like the police, as is the case in Iceland.
Denmark is responsible for all military matters in Greenland. Denmark has no coast guard. But Danish naval vessels deployed to Greenland perform coast-guard duties. Bith ships are under the command of the Joint Arctic Command. In addition, the well-known Sirius Patrol unit on land is responsible for border patrols. Since 2012, Denmark has operated the Joint Arctic Command to secure the coastal waters of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. That is why Denmark reacted strongly to Broberg’s statements. For the Danish foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, Greenland’s security and foreign policy are closely linked to that of Denmark, as he had confirmed to Greenlandic media. But Broberg, who sits in the government as a member of the Naleraq party, wants nothing to do with it. “Greenland, that’s us. The Arctic, that’s us,” he told Sermitsiaq . Naleraq is campaigning for independence from Denmark.
Greenland’s efforts to turn international interest in itself into even more independence are not only met with confusion in Denmark, however. Under the previous government of Kim Kielsen, Nuuk had gone its own way without prior consultation with Copenhagen. And the Russian ambassador in Copenhagen, Vladimir Barbin, had also strongly criticised some of the Greenlandic advances in the past. The sensitivity of the whole issue is also shown by the fact that a statement made by Broberg on Danish television was interpreted and reproduced in such a distorted way that even official Russia had to intervene.
What happened: during the broadcast, Broberg explained that he had in mind a system similar to Iceland’s in terms of defense. This would mean that there could also be a bilateral agreement with the US. Shortly thereafter, a Danish newspaper published that the statement had provoked a “strong reaction” from Barbin, who envisioned more US troops in Greenland. Only an official statement by Russia smoothed the waters somewhat and Broberg also stated that there was a good dialogue between Russia and Greenland. He got on well with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, during the Arctic Council meeting, Sermitisaq quotes him as saying. But how the mood is in his own house between him and Denmark remains open.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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