The key to the North Pole: Russia’s hefty Arctic ambitions – and their implications for security in the Arctic

december 27, 2019 • Af
The “key to the North Pole,” is preserved at Russia’s Arctic museum in Saint Petersburg. (photo: Martin Breum)

SAINT PETERSBURG — Last week at Russia’s small but magnificent Arctic museum, which has existed since 1933 in an old church in Saint Petersburg, I found the key to the North Pole — literally.

In dark and heavy wrought iron, about 20 centimeters long and coupled to an equally heavy iron chain, this ceremonial key was presented back in 1937 to the crew of Station 1, the very first of many Soviet research stations set up over the years on drift ice near the North Pole.

I will get back to the key, but for now let us accept it as a symbol of Russia’s deep attachment to the Arctic.

It helped me grasp a little more of the renewed great power rivalry in the Arctic and added to a rough outline presented to me recently by a Russian official: When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and its republics and dependencies in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Baltics and Eastern Europe were lost, Russia took some time to collect itself and then turned all eyes to the north.

In the vast and snowy provinces from Murmansk in the west to the Pacific in the east there was still plenty of room for national expansion, economic advancement, Russian greatness, scientific leaps and hopes for the future. In hindsight the turn to the north was almost destined.

“For Russia, in many aspects geography is destiny. It is very important to understand that the Arctic is an integral part of Russia’s identity and that Russia views itself as an Arctic nation,” Marya Rozanova-Smith, an Arctic researcher and lecturer tells me in Saint Petersburg.

“The Arctic is a great source of national pride in Russia and deeply rooted in its past achievements. What else does the Russian people have to be so proud of today?” she says.

Attendees of the conference “Arctic: Today and the future” in Saint Petersburg Russia stroll past a Gazprom display. (Martin Breum)

Six months every year Marya Rozanova-Smith lectures on Arctic Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. The rest of the year she spends on Arctic projects at the Russian State Hydrometeorological University in Saint Petersburg, her hometown, or guest lecturing elsewhere. We met at one of the annual Arctic gatherings in Russia, the IX International Forum: Arctic – Today and the Future in a gigantic conference center outside Saint Petersburg.

[Local skepticism meets government optimism at a major Arctic event in Russia]

Some 1,000 governors, politicians and others from Russia’s Arctic provinces and districts gathered here under 10-meter-high ceilings to learn from each other and make themselves heard by the throngs of  VIPs dispatched by the central government in Moscow. Many have flown 6 to 8 hours from Yakutia, Chukotka, Krasnoyarsk or other points in the north for this opportunity; a few wear clothing of the more than 40 officially recognized Indigenous peoples in the Russian Arctic.

About a third of Russia’s land mass is Arctic and the rapid decrease in polar sea ice — and the insistent focus by President Vladimir Putin on the riches in the Arctic — has led to significant economic and military developments along Russia’s north and some 20,000 kilometers of Arctic coastline. This is an Arctic revival which changes the lives of those who live there and which provides significant backdrop for the current signs of increased great power rivalry in the Arctic.

The ice silk road

“The Arctic is the national resource base for the whole of Russia. Ultimately, it is not just about national pride, not just about identity or about the peoples living in the Arctic, but also about the country’s future economic prosperity” Rozanova-Smith says.

More than 10 percent of Russia’s GDP and some 20 percent of all Russian exports are generated in the Arctic.

The world’s first floating nuclear power station now provides electricity to the 4,000 people in Pevek, a small East Siberian town on the coast and to mining and oil operations in the vicinity.

The new nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika, so far the largest and most powerful in the world took its first trial run from Saint Petersburg on Thursday. Its sisters Ural and Sibir will follow soon and two more have been commissioned. Beginning in April 2020 Arktika will serve the Northern Sea Route, where forward-looking shipowners, not least Chinese, are eyeing the shortest ever route between Europe and Asia, thousands of kilometers shorter than the route through the Suez Canal.

[The world’s largest nuclear icebreaker starts sea trials]

The Northern Sea Route is among the main sources of inspiration for the Russian vision of Arctic might, prosperity and future power.

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika is seen drawn by tug boats as it starts the sea trials, in Saint Petersburg, Russia December 12, 2019. (Anton Vaganov / Reuters)

The Russians have sailed on their Arctic seas and in their Arctic rivers to the hinterland since the 17the century. On some of the grimmest stretches in Siberia the icebreakers at times still fight in vain in the deep winter, but otherwise climate change has opened the waters there so that the amounts of cargo travelling here are now doubling each year.

Last May, Putin issued orders that the amount of goods travelling in the Northern Sea Route must hit 80 million tons per year in 2024. That is more than triple the current traffic, or almost 10 percent of the annual traffic in the Suez Canal, and no one here at the event in Saint Petersburg seems to question the president’s seemingly apocryphal target setting.

“Many Russians remember the Soviet era of the Arctic exploration and how they established cities and big industrial complexes in areas where you can barely survive. Russians often romanticize the Polar region and the political narratives describe it as a land of strong men, who can serve as role models for the next generations,” says Rozanova-Smith.

Stalin and other Soviet leaders used the conquering of the Arctic as proof of the invincible state. The Russians moved north (or were sent to labor camps there; those are not mentioned at the conference), while Soviet pilots in leather helmets were the first to land on the North Pole.

Rozanova-Smith takes me one more step back: “Already in the 18th century Peter the Great sensed the geopolitical importance of the Arctic. He saw Russia as a great, expanding nation,” she says.

She recounts how the emperor and his successors funded Arctic maritime explorations, including a grueling 10-year expedition from Saint Petersburg to Kamchatka with more than 3,000 men. Led by Vitus Bering, a Dane, they travelled under extreme conditions along the Northern Sea Route and eventually across what is now the Bering Strait to Alaska.

“It cost Peter the Great a sixth of the entire budget of the Russian Empire. Probably no other country has put so many human lives, so many resources and such large funds at risk for the sake of the Arctic. For other Arctic nations, that do not have the same historical legacy, perhaps the Arctic does not have the same meaning, but for Russians the Arctic will always be a land they are ready to stand up for,” Rozanova-Smith says.

At the conference in Saint Petersburg, envoys from the Arctic provinces and representatives of companies such as Gazprom, Rosatom, and Novatek explain, how harbors along the Northern Sea Route are now being deepened, railways made longer, new rails laid, pipelines constructed, shipyards expanded and billions of rubles mobilized. In November this year, Rosatom, which already manages Russia’s nuclear icebreakers, announced that it intends to buy 55 container ships for use along the Northern Sea Route.

This was another surprise for western skeptics.

In 2018, a Danish ship Venta Mærsk attracted global attention as the first ever container ship to make the trip from China to Europe along the Northern Sea Route. But Maersk Shipping, the owner, still agrees with most independent observers that running containers between Europe and Asia along the route will not be a viable business for many years to come.

The Venta Maersk transits the Northern Sea Route in September 2018. (Maersk)

The ice still prohibits the punctuality demanded by modern customers and the hefty price on Russia’s compulsory icebreaker assistance further complicates matters. When Rosatom thinks differently, one Russian observer told me, it is most likely because the company wants to please President Putin and because it relies on domestic Russian cargo, cheap state insurance and free icebreaker service from its own fleet of icebreakers.

All this growth on the Northern Sea Route comes with a pressing security dimension. The U.S. and others accuse Russia of violating international law, by insisting that the Northern Sea Route only of internal Russian waters and that Russia is entitled to regulate — and if necessary prohibit with force — the passage of vessels from other nations. The U.S. and likeminded nations maintain that large tracts of water along the passage are international waters and the age-old right of free passage at the seas must be respected — for instance, in the case of U.S. merchant and naval vessels.

Gas for China

The largest growth in the Russian Arctic is presently from natural gas, in particular gas from the Yamal Peninsula, home of the largest deposits of natural gas in the world. From the new harbor in Sabetta on the Kara Sea, a brand new fleet of icebreaking tankers take liquefied natural gas to the world market. The huge plant at Sabetta and an a even bigger plant planned for the nearby Gydan Peninsula are presently the largest industrial projects in the Arctic. During construction of the Sabetta plant the local population grew from some 300 to 30,000.

The skeptics maintain that the huge investments in Russia’s Arctic fossil resources will prove to be less than sound as the world turns to renewable energy, but so far Russia has found plenty of interested investors and customers.

After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ensuing war in Eastern Ukraine, Europe and the U.S. have to some degree turned their backs on Russia, but there are plenty of takers in Asia, where demand for natural gas surpasses that of Europe. China’s state-owned China National Production Company (CNPC), and the Chinese Belt and Road investment fund provided more than 25 percent of the 27 billion dollars it took to build the Sabetta plant and the Chinese now own 27 percent of the enterprise, while France’s Total owns 20 percent. Japan followed suit recently and made its largest ever investment in Russia — also in Yamal natural gas.

Further south but still in the frozen regions of Russia’s Far East, some 3,000 kilometers of new pipelines will transport natural gas from plants in Kovykta and Chayanada to  Blagoveshchensk on the Chinese border. Chinese pipelines will eventually lead the gas to Shanghai in China’s central regions.

An employee in branded jacket walks past a part of Gazprom’s Power Of Siberia gas pipeline at the Atamanskaya compressor station outside the far eastern town of Svobodny, in Amur region, Russia November 29, 2019. (Maxim Shemetov / Reuters)

U.S. and European sanctions on Russia after Crimea put an extremely efficient brake on offshore oil developments in the Russian Arctic. Western oil companies have all but disappeared from the scene, and at the conference in Saint Petersburg the resulting frustrations ran thick. A plain-speaking younger official from Moscow, Magomed Gehaev, explained to a sizeable audience how Russia’s own oil sector is poorly organized and incapable of mounting any major new drilling in the Arctic without foreign technological input.

In the bigger picture, however, the potential for new discoveries remains very present in the minds of the central authorities, and the huge Prirazlomnoya platform in the Kara Sea is still the world’s only producing oil platform in such challenging ice conditions. Russia’s modern tankers, capable of breaking ice forward or backwards, carry oil from the Kara Sea to Rotterdam and other markets every day.

Military mobilization

On the military side, new missile-carrying submarines of hitherto unseen sophistication hum their way through the warmer and largely ice free waters around Russia’s naval bases on the Kola Peninsula close to Norway. Three new military icebreakers are on their way from the shipyards, also they will carry sophisticated missiles.

On the isles of Franz Josef Land only 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole Russian MIG fighter planes will soon take off from the refurbished Nagurskoye air base, the world’s northernmost military installation. The runway is 2,500 meters or long enough to receive almost all types of aircrafts and lies only a relatively short distance from the U.S. Air Force base at Thule in Greenland, with its radar — which is part of the U.S. missile defense system.

[Russia plans to set up an Arctic air defense ‘dome’ with S-400 missiles]

During the Cold War, the base at Nagurskoye, named after Yan Nagursky, one of Russia’s early aviation heroes, were home to numerous Russian bombers, and for the last two years the base has once again taken center stage in tensions between the US and Russia.

As the Canadian security analyst Rob Huebert puts it in the latest edition of The Arctic Yearbook:

“At the heart of the problem is a geographical proximity of the Soviet/Russian and American location connected by the Arctic region. This is combined with the existing weapon systems that place a premium on the Arctic as the best staging location for strikes against each other.”

“Thus it is not about an appearance of a new Cold War, it is simply the resurfacing of the ‘old’ Cold War,” he writes.

[Russia’s hypersonic missiles could be why Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland]

In November a MIG fighter plane exercising above the Barents Sea launched one of Russia’s new hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, which flies some eight to 10 times faster than all previously known ballistic missiles. Security analysts say that Russia’s Kinzhal and  Zhirkov missiles are so fast they will penetrate any known missile defense systems, including that of the US. President Putin has bragged about them in the Russian media, but in Saint Petersburg we are told that Russia’s Arctic military build-up is of course only there to maintain a deterrence against foreign (read: U.S. and NATO) aggressions and to defend Russia’s new assets in the Arctic. The head of Russia’s mighty Northern Fleet, vice admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev took the floor himself to make this very point (as relayed through the conference translators:)

“The Northern Fleet is the most powerful force in the world and our presence is a guarantee of peace in the Arctic. We seriously believe that no conflict will arise in the Arctic. For me that is the main priority. Our defensive missile systems are for the defense of our national interests,” he said while showing pictures and graphs of it all.

Denmark and Greenland’s role

The message from the Moscow authorities at the Saint Petersburg event was unambiguous: Russia’s leadership will continue to invest itself and its political and economic capital in the Russian Arctic.

And as we should not forget, Russia also stands to win the rights to substantial new parts of the seabed in the Arctic Ocean towards the North Pole simply by abiding by international law, namely the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Russia therefore has very much to lose and very little to gain from unrest, tension and conflict in the Arctic — or at least that is how Russia’s currently explains Arctic security. The central points were repeated recently at a public event in Copenhagen by Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Vladimir Barbin, who was Russia’s primary Arctic diplomat for five years before taking up his post in Copenhagen.

European analysts, including analysts here in Copenhagen where I am based, have long tended to agree to most of this analysis and it still informs the latest Arctic analysis from the Danish Defence Intelligence Service, published in November: “Russia (has) an interest in maintaining stability and peace in the Arctic. This will benefit Russia’s security and economic interests in the region and create the most favorable conditions for negotiations for maritime delineation,” the report reads (my translation).

At the same time, however, significant adjustments towards a more hawkish approach to Russia seem to take sway here as well as in Norway, another Arctic country, which is much closer to Russia and deeply involved in renewed Arctic mobilization along the U.S. and Great Britain.

U.S. and British troops have been for the last year more or less permanently stationed in the Norwegian Arctic, and in Denmark our prime minister Mette Frederiksen recently announced a doubling or more to the budget of Denmark’s Arctic Command in Greenland. This followed U.S. complaints that Denmark is not doing enough in the Arctic, and in announcing the budget increase our prime minister made specific reference to Russia: ”We see a significant increase in Russia’s Arctic presence in the Arctic. This is why we need increased anti-submarine capacity. Secondly, we see increased Russian activity in the air. Therefore we need to make particular efforts in the air. Monitoring of our airspace by radar, satellite and planes is one option,” she said. “We have a special responsibility, and we need to lift that. There is reason to be vigilant. The Arctic is a low tension region and we want it to remain so. But should not be naive,” she told (my translation) Berlingske, a major daily newspaper.

As many will know, this followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s confirmation in August that conversations had been ongoing for some time at the White House about how the U.S. might possibly buy Greenland from Denmark. This was a tangible signal of the rapidly increasing strategic U.S. interest in the Arctic, spurred not the least by the Russian military build-up.

The trend of course is likely to continue, just as the Russian focus and dependence on economic growth in the Arctic will continue. Which is why the key to the North Pole at the museum in Saint Petersburg and the particular relationship between Russia and the Arctic, which it represents, calls for renewed attention.

As I now know from Mikhail Lamakin, deputy director for scientific work at the museum, the key to the North Pole was presented to crew of SP1, the first Russian drift ice research station, by the workers of another research station, Ostrov Rudolfa, located on Franz-Josef Land some 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole.

The island station was the key base for preparations before the crew of SP1 took off for the ice. During 1936 they built airfields and storage facilities around Rudolfa station and in May 1937 four large cargo planes carried the crew and their gear onto the ice near the North Pole and left them there to hoist the Soviet flag, turn the key and do their job.

This was successfully completed in February 1938, some 274 cold days later, as the ice broke up and the crew was evacuated by ship.

Denne text blev i let redigeret udgave først publiseret på 10. 12 2019


Brexit, Huawei og Trump skærper Grønlands og Færøernes pres på Mette Frederiksen

december 18, 2019 • Af

Efter Brexit skal Færøerne forhandle ny fiskeriaftale og sikre sig sin øvrige handel med Storbritannien. Imens vil skotterne arbejde hårdt på at oprette en uafhængig stat i Nordatlanten — langt tættere på Færøerne end Danmark.  

Begge processer vil øge Færøernes og også Grønlands krav om større magt over deres egne udenrigsanliggender. Krav, som i forvejen har fået ny styrke efter Donald Trumps tanker om at købe Grønland og Kinas Huawei-pres på Færøerne, men som Mette Frederiksen hidtil har fundet det næsten umuligt at opfylde.

Færøernes lagmand, Bardur Nielsen, og Boris Johnson i London 5. november – og færøerne må ikke føre udenrigspolitik.

Færøerne er ikke medlem af EU, og som folketingsmedlem Sjurdur Skaale fra Javnaðarflokkurin siger:

“Danmark vil få en fiskeriaftale med Storbritannien gennem EU, men vi skal selv forhandle en helt ny fiskeriaftale og en helt afgørende handelsaftale med Storbritannien efter Brexit. Det er en ny stor partner, som vi skal samarbejde med uden om Danmark.” 

Den færøernes lagmand Bardur Nielsen har netop inviteret Boris Johnson til Færøerne, som opfølgning på et møde de to havde i London 5. november. Den britiske fiskeriminister var på Færøerne allerede i 2018, og som for at understrege forbindelsen købte Færøernes største virksomhed Bakkafrost i september lakseproducenten The Scottish Salmon Company for mere end 3 mia. kr. – den største færøske investering i udlandet nogensinde. 

Samtidig har Kinas ambassadør i Danmark som bekendt angiveligt lagt betydeligt pres på Færøernes landsstyre for at sikre, at firmaet Huawei bliver leverandør af 5G-mobiltelefoni på Færøerne. Det illustrerer igen, siger Sjurdur Skaale, hvorfor Grønland og Færøerne bør have langt mere kontrol over deres egne udenrigsaffærer: 

“Sagen viser den store forskydning i det danske riges betydning, hvor Grønland og Færøerne efterhånden får større betydning end Danmark. Internationalt, geopolitisk og strategisk har Grønland og Færøerne i dag fået større betydning end Danmark, så det er helt uholdbart, at beslutningerne skal træffes i Danmark, når det handler om Færøerne og Grønland.” 

I Grønland er selvfølelsen og frustrationerne på samme niveau. 

Sara Olsvig, der er tidligere folketingsmedlem for Inuit Ataqatigiit og tidligere viceformand for Naalakkersuisut, Grønlands landsstyre, anser det for helt nødvendigt, at de nordatlantiske ø-samfund får større udenrigspolitisk råderum:

“Jeg kan ikke se nogen vej udenom. Vi tager allerede beslutninger i dag, som har konsekvenser for udenrigs- og sikkerhedsområdet, så hvis ikke det skal fortsætte med at være noget værre rod, kan man lige så godt sætte sig ned nu og finde en løsning,” siger hun.

“Som det er nu, savner vi transparens og lige adgang til informationer. Samtidighedsprincippet, som tilsiger, at parlamenterne i København og Nuuk har samme adgang til information samtidig, efterleves ikke, og meget af det materiale, der er relevant for beslutningnerne i Grønland, foreligger ikke i Grønland,” siger hun. 

Hun fandt den dansk-grønlandske arbejdsdeling på udenrigsområdet dysfunktionel allerede fra sin entre i Folketinget i 2011: 

“Det er som om, man fra dansk side stadig ikke er opmærksomme på, at man har en ny udfordring, og at man er nødt til at finde ud af, hvad man gør ved den. I al den tid, jeg var politiker, har det været sådan, at beslutninger, der umiddelbart ser ud til at være indenrigspolitiske beslutninger i Grønland og på Færøerne, også har haft udenrigs- og sikkerhedspolitiske konsekvenser. Systemet er bare stadigvæk ikke gearet til, hvad man så skal gøre ved det,” siger hun. 

Sara Olsvig var under sin tid i Folketinget formand for foreningen af arktiske parlamentarikere, der samler parlamentsmedlemmer fra alle de arktiske nationer. Hun trak sig fra det politiske liv i 2018 og er i dag chef for UNICEF i Grønland, men hun deltager stadig i den politiske debat. 

I den seneste udgave af tidsskriftet Udenrigs skriver hun (sammen med lektor ved universitetet i Nuuk, cand.scient.pol, ph.d. Rasmus Leander Nielsen) under overskriften Da Trump ville købe Grønland

“Sat på spidsen er det ikke længere muligt blot at fastslå, at forsvars- og udenrigspolitikken er et dansk anliggende, jfr. Grundlovens § 19, for de facto spiller Grønland qua den geostrategiske placering en stigende rolle, når beslutninger tages, diplomater mødes og arktiske sikkerhedsdynamikker ændres,” lyder det.   

Eller som Sjurdur Skaale siger om Huawei-sagen, som også den amerikanske ambassadør Carla Sands har involveret sig i:

Når der er så kraftigt pres fra USA og Kina, viser det, at sagen handler om mere end bare Kinas handel med et mikroskopisk teleselskab på Færøerne. Vores 60.000 indbyggere kan jo være i en enkelt bygning i Beijing. Det handler om geopolitik. Der er stadig større økonomisk og militær aktivitet i Arktis, og Færøerne ligger på tærsklen mellem Europa og Arktis. Derfor er det godt at have foden indenfor.” 

Færøernes og Grønlands krav om større udenrigspolitisk råderum er penibel, fordi Mette Frederiksen på den ene side har stærkt brug for et smidigt og operationelt samarbejde med både Torshavn og Nuuk, og på den anden side opfatter sig selv som låst, fordi grundloven ifølge hendes egne jurister ikke tillader overførsel af flere udenrigspolitiske beføjelser til hverken Nuuk eller Torshavn. 

Problemet er akut. Stormagternes interesse kræver klare, umisforståelige svar, og det kan blive fatalt, hvis de tre dele af riget sender uens signaler.


Man behøver blot at forestille sig furoren, hvis det grønlandske landsstyre modsatte sig øget amerikansk tilstedeværelse i Grønland. Eller hvis Færøerne i fremtiden vil føre en anden kurs over for Kina, end den, der er vedtaget i København – sådan som Færøerne i forvejen gør, når det gælder sanktionerne mod Rusland efter Krim.

Samtidig bestrider man både i Grønland og på Færøerne de danske juristers fortolkning af grundloven. Som Sjurdur Skaale siger: “Grundloven beskriver en enhedsstat, som forlængst er sprængt, og som bliver det stadig mere. Det må man forholde sig til, og ikke fastholde den meget legalistiske tilgang, man har fulgt hidtil. Danmark har jo f.eks. også tilladt, at vi har et parlament på Færøerne, at vi opkræver skatter og alt muligt andet, som vi mener ligger klart uden for grundlovens rammer. Beslutningerne har fra gammel tid ligget i Danmark, hvor befolkningen og økonomien har været stærkest, men nu kommer geografien ind som et nyt, afgørende element, og der spiller først og fremmest Grønland, men også Færøerne i kraft af sit store havområde en stadig vigtigere rolle.” 

Regeringen mener, at den har strukket juraen så langt, det kan lade sig gøre. I stedet forsøger man sig med tillidsskabende foranstaltninger. Sikre kommunikationskanaler anlægges over Atlanten, flere folk i Torshavn og Nuuk sikkerhedscleares, en årlig samarbejdsdag mellem de tre udenrigstjenester er indført, Politiets og Forsvarets Efterretningstjenester betjener i stigende grad Torshavn og Nuuk, Forsvarsakademiets analytikere har for nylig holdt både lukkede og åbne møder i Nuuk, og Mette Frederiksen og andre ministre siger, at de inddrager grønlandske og færøske beslutningstagere mere i e udenrigs- og sikkerhedspolitiske overvejelser, end tidligere. 

Der er ganske store ting på spil. Tænk blot på, hvordan Mette Frederiksen valgte at øremærke 1,5 milliarder i forsvarsbudgettet til Arktisk Kommando i Nuuk mindre end to døgn, før hun skulle mødes med Donald Trump i London. 

Eller tænkt på, hvordan forsvarsminister Trine Bramsen har måtte forpligtet det danske forsvar til udgifter på omkring en halv milliard til vedligehold af den store lufthavn i Kangerlussuaq i Grønland, bl.a. fordi den er vigtig for det amerikanske forsvar – uden at det i øvrigt har tilfredsstillet behovet for afklaring i Nuuk.

Og tænk på, hvordan Lars Løkke Rasmussen i 2018 måtte finde 1,6 mia. kroner til to grønlandske lufthavne – ikke mindst fordi der i København og Washington var frygt for, at Kina skulle få en rolle i lufthavnsprojekterne.

Og tænk på, hvordan Mette Frederiksen i Folketinget 10. december måtte fastholde, at det er en ren færøsk beslutning, om det offentligt ejede Føroya Tele vælger Huawei som 5G-leverandør eller ej.

Statsministeren undlod at gøre sagen til et spørgsmål om rigets udenrigs- og sikkerhedspolitik, selvom sagen har næsten selvlysende sikkerheds- og udenrigspolitisk indhold, og selvom den stadig hæver som et gærbrød midt i den uregulerede, besværlige gråzone mellem handelspolitikken, som er et færøsk anliggende, og udenrigs- og sikkerhedspolitikken, der sorterer under den danske regering. 

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, der selv måtte navigere i gråzonen i sin tid som statsminister, valgte efter et møde om Huawei-sagen i Udenrigspolitisk Nævn 12. december at skære Mette Frederiksens dilemma ud i pap: 

“Hvis den danske regering mente, det var et problem, at den færøske regering valgte én leverandør frem for en anden, så ville den danske regering kunne gribe ind allerede nu. Derfor nytter det ikke noget, at den danske regering står og tørrer ansvaret af sig,« sagde han til de forsamlede journalister.

 Udenrigsminister Jeppe Kofod fastholdt som Mette Frederiksen, at regeringen ikke agter at blande sig: 

“Det her er en kommerciel beslutning, som ligger på Færøerne. Det er et hjemtaget område, som Færøerne har, hele teleområdet. Vi har Center for Cybersikkerhed, som kan være med til at rådgive Færøerne og det konkrete selskab i forhold til sikkerhed, IT-sikkerhed, cybersikkerhed, telesikkerhed, og det er det, vi også stiller til rådighed,” sagde han. 

Regeringen undgår på den måde at sige ligeud, at Huawei er så tæt forbundet med den kinesiske statsmagt, at Danmark af sikkerhedsmæssige årsager ikke ønsker, at Huawei får kontrol med 5G-netværket, der bliver en afgørende del af samfundets fremtidige digitale infrastruktur.    

Samtidig slipper regeringen for et ubehageligt skænderi med det færøske landsstyre netop om magtens deling i rigsfællesskabet, der straks ville få følger også for forholdet til Grønland. 

Landsstyret i Torshavn siger, at man ikke vil blande sig i, hvilken leverandør Føroya Tele vælger til sit 5G-netværk. Et dansk indgreb ville følgelig blive betragtet som et alvorligt, politisk overgreb i Torshavn fordi Færøerne vil fastholde, at der er tale om handelspolitik, og fordi et dansk indgreb straks ville underminere Landsstyrets autoritet på Færøerne. 

Brexit vil som nævnt forstærke problemet, især fordi Færøerne får hårdt brug for meget tætte forbindelser til London og det britiske marked, men også på grund af løsrivelsestrangen i Skotland. 

Det EU-venlige parti SNP fik 45 pct. af stemmerne i Skotland ved valget i sidste uge, og partiet slås nu for en ny folkeafstemning om Skotlands løsrivelse. En del færingerne fulgte tæt med i den forrige i 2014, og færingerne har fra gammel tid et tæt forhold til Skotland, der er øernes nærmeste nabo mod syd. 

Af de 8000 tropper, der opholdt sig på Færøerne under 2. verdenskrig for at holde tyskerne væk, kom store dele af dem fra Skotland. Den britiske ledelse havde med omhu valgt tropper, som man mente ville gå godt i spænd med færingerne. Det kom der en del ægteskaber og børn ud af, samtidig med at færøske fiskere sejlede i lukrativ men livsfarlig pendulfart mellem Færøerne og Skotland med fisk til de sultne englændere. 

Lederen af SNP, Nicola Sturgeon,  har i de seneste år bejlet til både Færøerne og Island, der kan blive nyttige naboer til et frit Skotland. I to år i træk har hun eksempelvis holdt keynote speeches på Arctic Circle, en årligt tilbagevendende Arktis-konference i Reykjavik, hvor hun har talt varmt om “vores arktiske naboer”. 

Også i denne forbindelse vil kravet om udvidede udenrigspolitiske beføjelser trænge sig på. 

Ligesom det gør i Kina, hvor færingerne åbnede repræsentation i oktober.

Og som det gør i Grønland, hvor politikerne snart vil møde diplomater fra USAs nye konsulat i Nuuk igen og igen — i Brugsen, på fisketure, til receptioner og andet året rundt.

Og som det gør, når det gælder færøernes milliard-eksport af laks til Rusland, der er i lodret strid med ånden i de europæiske sanktioner mod Rusland efter Krim.

Og som det gør, fordi landsstyret i Torshavn arbejder hårdt på at få en handelsaftale med Rusland og de øvrige fire medlemmer af Den Eurasiske Union.

Og som det gør, fordi Færøernes udenrigsansvarlige forslår, at Færøerne de facto skal anderkende Jerusalem som Israels hovedstad.

Og som det gør i forhandlingerne i Grønland om det amerikanske forsvars brug af den lokale infrastruktur.

Og som det gør, fordi Mette Frederiksen valgte at tale om Grønland og Arktis med Donald Trump i London, uden at invitere en repræsentant for Grønland med.

Og som det gør, når Grønlands forhandler med udlandet om sjældne jordarter, uran og andre strategiske mineraler. 

Og som det gør, når de nordatlantiske politikere rejser og taler med folk fra CIA, USA’s  kongres, NATO-ledere og andre beslutningstagere. 

Og som det gør, når de færøske og grønlandske forhandlere i de internationale fiskeriforhandlinger skal tale med én stemme, selvom de har forskellige mål. 

Og som det gør, når Færøernes vil være medlemmer af Nordisk Ministerråd, men Danmark sætter sig imod. 

Og som det gjorde i 2017, da Grønland, Færøerne og Island indgik en samarbejdsaftale, som den danske regering straks annulerede.

Og når det gælder flere andre, aktuelle sager.

 Til daglig fungerer samarbejdet angiveligt fint. Tonen på embedsmandsniveau er ifølge flere involverede bedre end tidligere, og det aktuelle pres fra USA og Kina har illustreret alvoren for de involverede. Mette Frederiksen og Jeppe Kofod har i deres korte tid i regering flittigt besøgt både Torshavn og Nuuk, og det hjælper, at Mette Frederiksen har et tæt forhold til Kim Kielsen, formanden for Naalakkersuisut. 

 Problemet er, at disse og de førnævnte tillidsskabende foranstaltninger ikke løser det grundlæggende dilemma, at Grønland og Færøerne ønsker noget nær fuld kontrol over deres egne udenrigsanliggender. Og at ønsket vokser næsten lige så hurtigt som  omverdenens interesse for de to nationer. 

Denne tekst blev i let redigeret tilstand først optrykt på 18. 12  2019


Hjælp til udsatte børn i Grønland varsler nye samarbejdsmønstre i rigsfællesskabet

november 25, 2019 • Af

Onsdag i sidste uge afsatte Mette Frederiksens regeringen og alle folketingets partier undtagen Nye Borgerlige 80 millioner kroner til undsætning af de udsatte børn i Grønland.

Det er skelsættende på mindst to måder. 

For det første, fordi det forhåbentlig fører til mere effektiv assistance til børnene (også selvom sexovergrebene i Grønland er ikke nævnt direkte i forligsaftalen, det kommer vi tilbage til). 

Men også fordi, det ikke siden Selvstyrets indførelse i Grønland i 2009 tidligere er sket, at en dansk regering kaster så betydelige summer efter en opgave, som Grønland for længst selv har taget ansvaret for – uden chance for at få pengene tilbage.

Hovedpersonerne bag den dansk-grønlandske aftale: Social- og indenrigsminister Astrid Krag og Naallakkersuisoq for sociale anliggender Martha Abelsen

 Hvis vi medtænker aftalen fra 2017 mellem Lars Løkke Rasmussen og Kim Kielsen, formanden for Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsstyre, om 180 mill kroner til oprydning på nedlagte amerikanske installationer i Grønland plus aftalen mellem de to fra 2018 om dansk indskudskapital og lån på i alt 1,6 mia. kroner til to nye grønlandske lufthavne plus 200 mill. i lånekapital til erhvervsudvikling, fritskrabes et tankevækkende nybrud i rigsfællesskabet – nu videreført af Mette Frederiksens regering.

Tendensen, der bekræftes af centrale kilder i både Nuuk og København, har krævet opgør med ellers fast cementerede dogmer i både Nuuk og København.  

I Danmark bryder politikerne med mange års fast politisk tænkning, der har betydet, at det årlige bloktilskud til Grønland ikke har kunne få følge af flere danske penge. I Selvstyreloven fra 2009 blev bloktilskuddet efter fire års seje forhandlinger med Grønland af flere grunde fastfrosset på et strengt afmålt, årligt beløb, hvorefter det logisk fulgte, mente man, at Danmark ikke løbende kunne bevilge nye, store summer til Grønland. 

Dette danske dogme synes nu forladt. 

I stedet domineres Danmarks tilgang til Grønland af et stærkt ønske om et tættere samarbejde, der kan sikre et stærkere Grønland og rigsfællesskabets beståen, og det må gerne koste penge. Tendensen var synlig før, men nu mærkbart forstærket efter Donalds Trumps tanker om et køb af Grønland. 

Foto fra DR-dokumentaren “Byen hvor børnene forsvinder” – om seksuelle overgreb på børn i Tasiilaq på Grønlands østkyst

I Grønland er opgøret med et andet dogme endnu i gang: Læg mærke til, at aftalen om børnene og aftalen om lufthavnene kun er landet efter dybe kontroverser i Nuuk. 

De danske penge til de to lufthavne sprængte den regerende koalition i Nuuk. Et af koalitionens partier, Naleraq, mente, at Danmark her fik lov at købe sig til fornyet magt i Grønland, og Naleraq meldte sig ud i protest.

På beslægtet facon skulle Kim Kielsens landsstyre i sommer igennem en alvorlig parlamentarisk krise, før man lod sig presse til at bede Danmark om ekstra hjælp til børnene. I en stund havde Kim Kielsens landsstyre et indædt flertal i Inatsisartut, det grønlandske parlament, imod sig, inklusive Kim Kielsens afgørende støtteparti, Demokraterne. Opgøret handler om selve magtdelingen med Danmark. 

De grønlandske politikere “hjemtog”, som det hedder, ansvaret for den socialvæsenet i Grønland allerede i 1980, og ledelsen i Nuuk bestemmer i dag selv suverænt de sociale indsatsers karakter, budgetternes størrelse, de faglige prioriteringer osv. 

Her har Danmark formelt ingen indflydelse, ingen formel hjemmel til at blande sig, magtdelingen er nøje defineret ved lov — senest i Selvstyreloven fra 2009. 

Danmark yder sit indirekte bidrag gennem det årlige bloktilskud, der i dag ligger på cirka 3,6 mia. (som pristalsreguleres). Tilskuddet dækker cirka halvdelen af det offentliges udgifter i Grønland, men som rigsfællesskabet er skruet sammen, er pengene afkoblet fra magten. 

Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsstyre, fordeler selv de 3,6 mia., og den politiske forståelse i Grønland er både blandt vælgerne og politikerne, at socialområdet og alle andre hjemtagne områder suverænt håndteres af Grønlands egne politiske ledere. For alle født i Grønland siden Hjemmestyret i 1979, har det været sådan så længe, de har levet. De folkevalgte grønlandske politikere opfattes som landets uantastede ledere, uanset at store dele af samfundets drift finansieres med danske penge.  

Det nye forlig på Christiansborg om de 80 millioner kroner til børnene smyger sig ind til dette grundelement i den politiske logik i Grønland, fordi det så tydeligt illustrerer Grønlands afhængighed af Danmarks faglige og økonomiske ressourcer og ovenikøbet varsler en fremtid, hvor de grønlandske lederes autonomi måske udfordres yderligere. 

De grønlandske vælgere vil hurtigt bemærke den gryende accept både i Grønland og Danmark af nye, store danske merbevillinger. Holder tendensen, er vejen banet for fælles indsatser i Grønland, der for få år siden ville have været umulige, og i Danmark vil tilhængerne af et mere aktivistisk forsvar for rigsfællesskabet givetvis øjne nye muligheder. 

Omvendt vil den nye tendens bekymre en del tilhængerne af løsrivelse i Grønland. Nogle vil givetvis protestere, mens de mere pragmatiske vil forklare deres vælgere, at økonomisk og social fremgang i Grønland i deres optik er et skridt nærmere uafhængigheden – uanset, at det er Danmark, der betaler. 

Udmøntningen af satspuljeaftalen, der skal ske over tre år 2020-2023, indeholder følgelig en del potentielle kontroverser.

De 80 millioner skal virke inden for den politiske aftale, der blev indgået i oktober mellem den politisk ansvarlige i Grønland, Martha Abelsen, Naalakkersuisoq (landsstyremedlem) for sundhed, sociale anliggender og justitsområdet, og social- og indenrigsminister Astrid Krag. 

Her blev det klart, at Martha Abelsen og hendes folk har gjort deres for at sikre, at magten over de sociale indsatser fortsat ligger i Nuuk. Aftalen hviler på den præmis, at “løsningsforslag og anbefalinger på sigt skal kunne løftes videre af selvstyret og de grønlandske kommuner inden for den gældende kompetencefordeling i rigsfællesskabet”.

Det er i tråd med den grønlandske grundopfattelse af, hvordan magtdelingen bør være, og med den politik, Martha Abelsen håndfast har fulgt fra begyndelsen, og som nu altså er fulgt med ind i satspuljeforliget. 

 Abelsen, der har årtiers personlig erfaring fra socialsektoren i Grønland, argumenterede tidligt for en “grønlandsk” indsats – her i en pressemeddelelse fra i sommer: 

“Naalakkersuisut er glade for den hjælp, som modtages fra Danmark, som styrker indsatserne på børne- og ungeområdet i Grønland. Samarbejdet er netop meget brugbart, da løsningerne på de sociale problemer skal findes i Grønland, med udgangspunkt i den grønlandske kultur og samfund. Naalakkersuisut er interesserede i at fortsætte den bæredygtige udvikling af socialområdet. Hjælpen fra Danmark har således karakter af hjælp til selvhjælp. De danske myndigheder har meget god forståelse for netop dette, hvilket bidrager til et godt samarbejde. Erfaringen er, at danske fagpersoner uden kendskab til grønlandske forhold kan løse nogle udfordringer på socialområdet på kort sigt, men når de forlader landet igen, så er problemerne ikke løst på længere sigt,” lød det. 

Det grønlandske understreges; rent danske input tolereres kun som midlertidige, men det er en svær balancegang: I øjeblikket høvler seks akut-udsendte danske socialrådgivere af på sagsbunkerne om sexovergreb og andet i Tasiilaq, to er i gang i Nuuk; en dansk familieterapeut og en psykolog sendes snart afsted; alt finansieret af de første 5,3 danske millioner, der blev afsendt fra regeringen som akut-hjælp i september. 

De 80 millioner i det nye forlig skal nu udmøntes ved hjælp af en dansk-grønlandsk styregruppe, organiseret i et nyt, midlertidigt Grønlandssekretariat i Social- og Indenrigsministeriet i København, ledet af en medarbejder fra Indenrigsministeriet i samarbejde med en medarbejder fra Abelsens departement i Nuuk. 

Gruppen bemandes bl.a. med fuldtidsmedarbejdere også fra justits- og socialministeriet, der samarbejder med grønlandske kolleger i Nuuk, mens folk fra andre danske ministeriet vil blive inddraget løbende. 

Lønnen til de danske embedsfolk betaler den danske regering oven i de 80 millioner til Grønland, og spørgsmålet om, hvem der reelt bestemmer, kompliceres yderligere af, at politi og domstole i Grønland, som ventes at få centrale roller i det fortsatte arbejde, stadig er dansk ansvarsområde.

Dansk Folkeparti har i nogle år hævdet, at Danmark burde genovertage magten over det sociale arbejde i Grønland, især af hensyn til børnene. DF’s præmis har været, at de grønlandske myndigheder ikke magter opgaven, som derfor bør sættes under statslig administration, præcis som det ville ske, hvis en dansk kommune svigtede. 

Abelsen-Krag-aftalen går formelt set langt uden om den løsning. Aftalen har i stedet karakter af et kommissorium for det dansk-grønlandske Grønlandssekretariat, der har fået udpeget tre spor: Hvad kan der gøres for børnene? Hvad skal man stille op med de voksne, som krænker og svigter, og endelig: Hvordan kan en fremtidig, forebyggende indsats se ud?

Alle relevante instanser, inklusive politiet, er inddraget. Arbejdet gælder udsatte børn i bredeste forstand, den er ikke udelukket fokuseret på den seksuelle vold, fordi fagfolkene mener, at sexovergrebene ikke er et isoleret fænomen. 

Tidsplanen er skarp: Inden nytår skal den første afrapportering falde, og inden sommer skal der ligge færdige, konkrete forslag til myndighedernes eksekvering.  

Ingen forestiller sig, at det bliver nemt. Der findes ingen vedtagne forklaringer på, hvorfor Grønland oplever så voldsomt mange sexovergreb på børn; et fænomen, der også kendes fra det arktiske Canada. Ingen færdige løsningsmodeller findes, så det gode spørgsmål er nu, om det nye midlertidige sekretariat i Danmark efter årtiers indsatser i Grønland kan pege på noget, der vil være mere effektivt, langtidsholdbart og lokalt acceptabelt som modgift til det normsammenbrud i lommer af det grønlandske samfund, der ifølge fagfolkene ligger bag. Og om der politisk vilje til at gennemføre også de mere drastiske indgreb, Grønlandssekretariatet måtte foreslå? 

Der gælder som nævnt en fast befaling i Grønland om, at indsatserne bliver ”grønlandske” – i hvert fald på sigt, og i baggrunden vogter opmærksomme politikere. 

Landsstyret afviste som nævnt i første omgang at bede Danmark om yderligere hjælp. En pinefuld debat om sexovergrebene havde stået på længe, da tv-dokumentaren “Byen hvor børn forsvinder” fra DR fik det hele til at gå op i spids. 

Myndighederne fremstod ubehjælpsomme. Nuuks borgmester Asii Chemnitz Narup, en af Grønlands stærkeste politikere og den øverst ansvarlige for socialindsatsen i Tasiilaq, måtte helt at trække sig fra politik, og en frustreret opinion og et flertal i parlamentet tvang Naalakkersuisut til at tage hatten i hånden og henvende sig i Danmark. 

 I tumulten fløj en række detaljer under mediernes radar: Antallet af sexovergreb på mindreårige i Grønland er faldet med cirka 50 procent over en generation; i øvrigt sammenfaldende med et voldsomt fald i alkoholforbruget. 26 pct. af de 18-29-årige i Grønland oplever stadig, at de har været udsat for et eller flere seksuelle overgreb, et rasende højt tal, men der er altså over tid en markant faldende tendens. Og den politisk ansvarlige, Martha Abelsen, var måske ikke helt så utilbøjelig til at søge om hjælp i Danmark, som medierne hævdede. Hun forsøgte forgæves at forklare, at der er en relativ lang tradition for samarbejde mellem Nuuk og København på det sociale område, som hun selv er varm tilhænger af. VLAK-regeringen afsatte i 2018 de første 10 mill. kroner fra satspuljen til de Grønlandske børn i fin samklang med Abelsens departement i Nuuk.

Til sommer udløber mandatet for det midlertidige Grønlandssekretariat og den nedsatte styregruppe, og så har de 80 mill. efter planen fået vinger. 

Men Astrid Krag har på regeringens vegne og i fin harmoni med det nye samarbejdsparadigme, omhyggeligt holdt døren åben for nye forhandlinger, såfremt de 80 millioner ikke skulle være nok, hvilket kyndige iagttagere i Nuuk allerede tvivler stærkt på. 

Denne tekst blev først offentliggjort på 26.11 2019











Should we protect the North Pole as World Heritage?

september 20, 2019 • Af

What exactly is the North Pole? How are we to understand the North Pole’s significance to the world today? has all the mysticism and wonders which so enthralled the early explorers and their eager audiences now completely vanished, reduced to bland insignificance by icebreakers, flags, submarines, tourists and jets in thoughtless shuttle across the polar sky?

Gerardus Mercator’s famous map from 1606 depicts the North Pole as a big mountain in the middle of an ocean surrounded by four parts of a non-existent continent.

Or do we owe the North Pole our respect and recognition, perhaps even our protection, for its part in the build-up of our civilization and intellectual wealth, so urgently needed in an age of climate change and other challenges? Does the North Pole belong to our common cultural heritage as a phenomena we must cherish, even as more entrepreneurial agents zoom in on the pole’s potential for fish, oil, gas and minerals (potential which is, by the way, still undocumented)?

Three nations, Russia, Canada and Denmark — with Greenland — all argue that  the rights to the ressources at the North Pole and the seabed surrounding it belong to them. All three have invested substantial time, effort and finances in their quests to provide proof of ownership. Never before has any nation come this close to claiming ownership to the North Pole. Icebreakers, planes, submarines and scores of scientists have been mobilized, but throughout these campaigns the key question of how to understand the cultural, intellectual and historical value of the North Pole has been notably absent.

I know for sure that in Denmark, my own country, nobody at government level has so far aired any thinking on the subject, and I am still to learn of any such contemplation within official circles in Moscow and Ottawa. Should any reader know of such, I would be pleased to receive notice.

The beginning of time

Luckily, those interested in the intricate issues of the intellectual and historical value of the North Pole now have easy access to passionate and expert assistance. In a lucid new analysis of how the North Pole have inspired natural scientists, philosophers, cartographers and others from ancient Greece to our days, Michael Bravo, who is a scholar of the history of science and head of Circumpolar History and Public Policy Research at the Scott Polar Research Institute at University of Cambridge, lights a thrilling path in the dark.

In his recent book ”North Pole: Nature and Culture,” he deftly extinguishes any remaining doubts about the North Pole’s current cultural, historic and phenomenological significance:

“I offer the reader a way to understand why the North Pole truly matters to anyone who knows that our home, planet Earth, is a globe,” he writes. The North Pole, he finds, “has refracted our understanding of the planet on which we live and the quest to master or knowledge of who we are.”

“Spatially, when standing at the North Pole, every direction faces south. Temporally, the North Pole is timeless and has to this day no allocated longitude or time zone. This is no coincidence: The North Pole can be thought of as the origin of time because all lines of longitude, which define time zones, pass through North Pole. Emperors and philosophers through the centuries have recognized the North Pole’s special significance as a point that defines global time, but is not itself subject to it,” Bravo writes and as I talk to him on the phone from Cambridge, he continues:

“Every frontier is a moving boundary, that has two sides. So if economic national expansion is pushing on the northern frontier, what is it pushing against? That is a question for the present day, because the question of what pushes back against expansion, is also a question about the conditions on which we inhabit the Earth today,” he says.

“The North Pole and the Arctic is the temporal and spatial framework in which we understand our economic, geographical, cultural place in the world,” he says. ”So as nation states negotiate new national boundaries and rights to access resources, the North Pole reminds us that we live on a planet with limits. If we talk about going beyond the pole, it becomes a paradox, because you cannot go further than the North Pole.  The idea of travelling ’beyond the Pole’ implies a space where the world is transformed. It leads us to understand our human limits in rather different terms. The North Pole shows us the limits of the world we inhabit, but it also challenges us to ask how is it that the world is made whole? How is this an inhabitable world? The North Pole, this placeless place, has been and remains integral to our understanding of our human condition and the way we are bounded to the surface of this planet,” he says.

At the heart of cosmos

In his book, Bravo explains how “for Greek and Arab astronomers, poles were at the heart of the architecture of the entire cosmos.”

I wish I had known earlier. In 2012, I learned of an entirely different approach. I was at the North Pole covering the Danish-Greenlandic attempts to secure proof that the Arctic seabed is irrefutably connected to the bedrock of Greenland and that the rights to the resources on the bottom should therefore belong to Greenland and indirectly to Denmark, which still holds sovereignty over Greenland. Travelling for weeks on an icebreaker, I was told that the North Pole has essentially of no value or significance in our time and age. It is, I learned at that time, basically an irrelevant spot in a bucket of water.

A group shot from the North Pole taken in the summer 2012, shows everyone on board the icebreaker that brought the Danish-Greenlandic LOMROG III expedition to the Arctic Ocean for collection of scientific evidence as part of efforts to prove that the seabed is solidly connected to Greenland. (Björn Eriksson / Swedish Polar Research Secretariat)

I know now from Michael Bravo’s book that the learned and wise in ancient Persia, Egypt, India and Greece were all deeply preoccupied with understanding the North Pole. Or, more precisely, they were first and foremost preoccupied with the North Pole’s even more revered celestial sister, which they imagined as a fixed entity close to the pole star on the inner surface of the shell that encapsulated the universe. Our earth was the eternal and entirely still center of the universe; solidly positioned on the axis that ran from the celestial North Pole down through the North Pole of our planet.

“Any astrologer worth his salt was on the lookout for divine conjunctions of constellations and stars, and omens or portents of dangers ahead. Hence the importance of the geographical North Pole came about first because of the celestial North Pole and its pole star, and our knowledge of the Earth’s grid of latitude and longitude was a projection derived from mapping the celestial realm,“ Bravo writes.

A new view of the world

In the 15th and 16th centuries the North Pole again took on a lead role in the evolution of a new view of the world and in the development of our ability to navigate the globe.

“Without poles there could be no geography and crucially, no system of orientation for navigation,” Bravo writes.

The creation of new ways to understand the architecture of the globe spun around the North Pole, and facilitated new empires, colonization, trade routes and other features of early globalization.

“Thus the North Pole provided one of the main keys to help unlock the basic question of human orientation — to know where we are at any moment in time and to know on what course we are heading,” Bravo writes.

Renaissance artisans, mathematicians, cosmographers and cartographers, in Vienna and Venice not the least, created beautiful immaculate globes and maps on which the North Pole shone as the center of new illuminations of our divine connections. Suddenly Europeans were learning to see the world in an entirely new light. They were taught how to see themselves and the planet they inhabited from above; a completely new perspective, which was particularly helpful in an age where many struggled to comprehend the astonishing voyages of the likes of Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan.

“These special polar maps conferred beauty and prestige on atlases in a unique way. These projections acquired an aesthetic significance and prominence that became synonymous with a new way of viewing the world, as though gazing down on the world from the celestial pole,” Bravo writes. In this way and with the North Pole very much in the center of things, cartographers like Peter Apian (1495-1552) and his successors helped much of Europe to an intellectual leap, long before any European had been anywhere close to the North Pole.

”For philosophers of the enlightenment like Kant, the human condition was one of being anchored to the Earth, like ants unable to escape the limitations of a field of vision placed very close to its surface,” Bravo writes. Cosmographers like Apian and his successors made the globe and its positioning in the universe easier to fathom and rulers and emperors like the Habsburgs in Austria and others with imperial visions readily adopted these tools for visualization of their ambitions. The North Pole’s significance grew and grew along a wide spectrum of sciences and the arts.

“It is the story about a wider circle of Europeans, mathematicians, cartographers, cosmographers not far removed from the contemporary circle of Renaissance artists and architects like Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci. The idea of looking on Earth from above is intimately connected to the story of the invention of linear perspective, which is much better known and celebrated in the world of art history of course,” Bravo tells me.

Paradise at the North Pole

In the 18th and 19th centuries much of the world followed with growing excitement how seafarers and explorers of many kinds travelled, at great peril, closer to the North Pole by ship, sledge, foot or balloon. Michael Bravo describes in detail how the narration of these endeavours, many of which did not achieve what they set out to do, became still more elaborate, and also how the idea that the North Pole was intimately connected to its celestial sister in Heaven continued to inspire more fantastic interpretations for a long time, including the one that Paradise was originally located at the North Pole.

“Safe from prying eyes, the Earth’s polar axis and poles possessed a strong appeal as places for locating narratives and symbols of absolute sacredness and purity,” Bravo writes. Even the colossal amounts of ice at the pole could be explained. With the fall of Eden, of course, man had called the freeze upon himself. The Boston University’s first president, William Warren (1833-1929), an esteemed professor of comparative religion, collected evidence from the new field of anthropology, from linguistics, archeology and from his own research into religious thought in Iran, China, Japan and elsewhere. He described in conclusion an antediluvian continent in the north with an unusually tall mountain centered at the North Pole. This he designated as the original site of Paradise and the very cradle of the human race.

In “Paradise Found” (1885) Warren explained how this antediluvian continent was first submerged by the biblical deluge and then by an ice sheet animated by an abrupt shift in the Earth’s polar axis and subsequent cooling. In Warren’s telling, refugees from these calamities fled south and soon established the first communities of white Aryans.

Today, Warren’s views would be subject to criticism because of his commitment to defending creationism against evolutionary theory. And even in his own time, his use of racial theory to explain historical migrations was controversial and widely contested. Michael Bravo, however, describes how North Pole variants of the history of Paradise penetrated far into a number of ethnonationalist movements in many countries, including strands of Hinduism in which a large Mount Meru at the North Pole plays a significant mythical role.

Powerful agents in Nazi Germany, such as Adolf Hitler’s close associate Rudolf Hess, also made use of North Pole Aryan mysticism in their Thule Gesellschafta influential private society that forged key elements of Nazi thinking.

“For National Socialism, the polar origins served as a repudiation of the traditional orientation of geography towards the sacred sites of the Judaic Mediterranean,” Bravo writes.

An American North Pole

He also uncovers how the polar projection of the North Pole emerged after World War II as though it were a surprising new projection:

“American writers in the 1940s began to write about polar projections and the view over the North Pole as though it were a new idea, adopting it to illustrate a new post-war vision of the world as a smaller connected global village.  America’s rethinking of its position in relationship to the whole globe made the North Pole important once again. Making the pole a symbol of American and Soviet foreign policy meant writing out its longer and more complex historical narratives,” he says.

Today, a few decades later, we talk more often about the North Pole as an object in the quests by Russia, Canada and Denmark/Greenland. The submissions by the three nations for the rights to the resources on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean are dealt with by the Commission on the Continental Shelf of the UN, and most observers expect the issue to be resolved peacefully within a decade or two, perhaps finally through direct negotiations between the three governments, since the commission is not mandated to solve the problem, if two or more nations have overlapping, valid claims.

In this elaborate diplomatic process, however, the more difficult question of the cultural value of the North Pole is not dealt with at all. The UN’s expert commission will not ask whether the dispute over potentially recognizing rights to the North Pole seabed as belonging to a single nation’s jurisdiction will somehow damage a phenomenon that is presently valuable to the whole of humanity. Will a precious gem of world heritage lose its thrill and value through this type of handling? Will whatever magic and substance that still remains be lost for future generations? Or is the cultural and historic value of the North Pole, now so thoroughly documented by Michael Bravo, perhaps immune to all we do today?

Wisely, Michael Bravo hardly comments on the current efforts or ambitions of the three states involved, and neither does he make suggestions as to whether a protective zone around the North Pole or the like would be desirable. His is the scholarly contribution, a rich and detailed account of the history and intellectual discovery of the pole, and we must then make up our own minds where this should all lead.

A view from Greenland

In the Danish Kingdom, only one key decisionmaker has ever made cohesive comment on the cultural value of the North Pole, namely the former Prime Minister of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist.

Not that the North Pole traditionally played any particular role in Greenland. Way back, the people of the very north of Greenland named the North Pole Qalasersuaq, the great navel. It lay far from the lands of humans, where only shamans could travel, and it was not a nice place, but rather a dangerous deep with no hunting to speak of. Since then, Qalasersuaq became a neutral, almost bland designation for the very point at 90 degrees North. As Michael Bravo explains in his book, the pole star was also never very significant as a means of navigation in the Arctic. This far north, the pole star shines too high in the sky to be very useful for laying a course.

Even so, Kuupik Kleist took a stand in Nuuk back in 2007: ”I believe that it is in the interest of Greenland that the North Pole and adjacent areas should not be given to any single state, but remain an area of common responsibility,” he wrote in a question to the Home Rule government in Nuuk.

In 2010, after taking office as Prime Minister in Greenland’s Self Rule government, his views became known in Copenhagen when I interviewed him for a book, and it was not much appreciated by the Danish government.  Nervousness arose that the delicate talks with Canada and Russia about the Arctic seabed might be disturbed, and within a day Kuupik Kleist explained to the public that his view was “private” and not that of Greenland’s government.

In May this year, however, he explained to me that he is still of the firm conviction that the North Pole and some section of its surrounding waters ought to be somehow protected for its cultural significance. “The North Pole is something special,” he said. But now he is no longer in politics and his view seems to have found no other real friends.

This text was first published on September 20  2019. It has been slightly edited for this blog.


Why President Trump’s idea to buy Greenland is not a joke in Denmark or Greenland

august 25, 2019 • Af on August 23:

Officials in Nuuk and Copenhagen are acutely aware of the delicate balance of interests between Greenland, Denmark and the United States.


General view of Upernavik in western Greenland, Denmark July 11, 2015. (Linda Kastrup / Ritzau Scanpix via Reuters)

For more than a week, journalists and commentators across the world have been regarding U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks that he may consider buying Greenland, the world’s largest island, almost as a laughing matter.

Many elements in this spectacle fit the common picture of the president as a  leader who doesn’t forget his track record as a real estate broker, and a president with limited patience with conventions and a willingness to treat other nations with delicate disdain if he finds it in the interest of the U.S.

[Trump calls Danish PM’s rebuff of Greenland idea ‘nasty’ as trip cancellation stuns Danes]

It seems clear now, though, that the U.S. president may be dead serious. It is no longer possible to rule out that the idea of buying Greenland, including all its people and territory, may reflect a wish on the part of the president to take responsibility for a hardened U.S. analysis of Russian and Chinese intentions in the Arctic. The president’s idea to buy Greenland, even if it seems unimaginable, matches in many ways a series of other recent signs, in particular from agencies and institutions involved with U.S. security, of a rapid increase in U.S. interests in Greenland.

A real estate deal

For Denmark and Greenland, serious dilemmas could emerge if Trump is indeed aiming to alter the delicate balance of powers between these two nations and the U.S. in the Arctic. Since World War II, the division of power between Denmark, Greenland and the U.S. in Greenland has been more or less clear: The U.S. takes care of Greenland’s security and runs Thule Air Base in the far north of the island primarily in order to protect the U.S. itself against adversaries on the other side of the Arctic Ocean.

General view of Thule Air Base, Greenland, Denmark October 31, 2018. (Linda Kastrup / Ritzau Scanpix via Reuters)

Denmark guards Greenland’s outer borders, including those at sea, and handles Greenland’s internal affairs in close cooperation with Greenland’s own elected leaders, who are acting with ever more autonomy. So far, this arrangement has generally served to the satisfaction of all, including the U.S., but now, as the last few days have shown, Trump may possibly want to change this intricate pattern. This may, potentially, challenge the fabric of the Danish Kingdom and fragile economic and social developments in Greenland. The whole episode may still, of course, all be forgotten in a few months, but to still more observers here in Denmark this now seems unlikely.

Essentially a real estate deal

On Sunday, Trump confirmed that he is interested in buying Greenland.

“Denmark essentially owns it. We’re very good allies with Denmark, we protect Denmark like we protect large portions of the world. So the concept came up and I said, ‘Certainly I’d be interested.’ Strategically it’s interesting and we’d be interested but we’ll talk to them a little bit. It’s not No. 1 on the burner, I can tell you that,” he said.

“Well, a lot of things can be done,” he said. “Essentially it’s a large real estate deal.” He indicated that a U.S. takeover might relieve Denmark of a financial burden, talking most likely about the annual grant with which Denmark supports Greenland: “Its hurting Denmark very badly because they’re losing almost $700 million a year carrying it. So they carry it at a great loss and strategically for the United States it would be very nice and we’re a big ally of Denmark, we protect Denmark and we help Denmark and we will,” he said.

‘An absurd discussion’

By coincidence, the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, was in Nuuk at the time and her reaction indicated well how precarious the situation now suddenly was. With only 5.5 million inhabitants, Denmark is a small country which can hardly afford even the smallest rift in its relations with the U.S., its second most important trading partner and for more than seven decades its most indispensable NATO partner and military ally. On the other hand, there is no way the prime minister could accommodate even the basic premise of the president’s suggestion that Greenland and its people, who are all Danish citizens, can be treated as a saleable commodity.

In an interview with the Danish Broadcasting corporation she dismissed the whole concept: “This is an absurd discussion, and of course (Greenland Premier) Kim Kielsen has made it clear that Greenland is not for sale, and the discussion stops there”.

The day after, however, at a press conference with Kielsen in Nuuk, she was already at pains to tell Washington and everyone else how strongly Denmark remained committed to the preservation of good relations with the U.S. In particular, she made strenuous efforts to stress Denmark’s strong commitment to continued security cooperation with the U.S. in Greenland. She foresaw “even stronger strategic cooperation”, and she remained open to any American wish to increase the U.S. military presence in Greenland in light of the changing security landscape in the Arctic: “As to the military presence, we have to follow developments,” she said.

At this stage it must have been clear to most watchers in Washington that Denmark remains ready to discuss any U.S. wish to increase its military presence in Greenland or to increase its own military efforts in Greenland. Kielsen, head of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s Self Rule Government, also acknowledged Greenland’s growing significance to U.S. security. The first U.S. bases in Greenland were established during World War II and Greenland’s leaders have no problem with the current U.S. military presence as long as it is followed by a respectful dialogue and as long as a reasonable benefits — jobs, infrastructure and so forth — keep flowing Greenland’s way.

No longer a joke

Two days later, however, on Wednesday, Trump cancelled a formal state visit to Denmark, scheduled for September 2-3, on Twitter: “Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time,” he wrote. (Later, he clarified that he had taken offense also by Frederiksen’s use of the word “absurd”).

The cancellation was unprecedented.

On Sept. 2, Trump was to be received by Queen Margrethe of Denmark, prime minister Frederiksen, by leaders of industry and by Kielsen, but now all was cancelled.

A digital billboard displays a sign reading “TRUMP” in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 20, 2019. Picture taken August 20, 2019. (Nikolaj Skydsgaard / Reuters)

At this stage it is no longer possible to remain certain that the president’s thoughts of buying Greenland was a passing confusion, and again the reaction of prime minister Frederiksen illustrated the pressure the Danish government feels. In her response to a frenzy of global media attention, at a press conference in Copenhagen just hours after the president’s tweet, she spoke again of the close, warm and important relations with the U.S.:

“The U.S. is one of our absolutely most important allies,” she said. Again she focused on security: “Our desire for a more strategic and stronger cooperation with the US on the Arctic is completely untouched, and our invitation to the Americans regarding stronger cooperation remains standing,” she said. Only then did she repeat that Greenland is not for sale. Finally she said it all once again in English to make sure every syllable was legible to Washington.

The day after, on Thursday, official word was issued that Frederiksen and Trump had spoken by phone, on Mette Frederiksen’s initative. At the time of this writing, little information about the content of the call has been disclosed, but not long after their conversation, in taking to the media, the president called Mette Frederiksen “a wonderful woman”.

Greenland as part of America

Apparently, offi

cial peace between the two leaders have been restored, but the episode leaves behind strong indications that the U.S. president acts on an entirely different perception of Greenland than do the governments in Denmark and Greenland.

According to international law, Greenland is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. In the views of the Danish government it has been so for at least the last 300 years, or — as many will have it here — since Vikings settled in the south of Greenland in 985. Relations go deep. Many Danish and Greenlandic families are intertwined and the common history plays an important part in the national identity of both Danes and Greenlanders. Danish missionaries translated the Bible into Greenlandic by the 18th century. Danish colonial rule over Greenland, which lasted until 1953, was certainly not without problems, abuse of power and mistakes, but there was no slavery, no systematic use of violence and Greenland today is a well-functioning democratic welfare society mirroring the Nordic countries. About half the population speak Danish as well as Greenlandic.

A woman and child hold hands as they walk on the street in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 15, 2018. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters File Photo)

Greenland enjoys self-rule and a great deal of autonomy, while security, foreign affairs, the royal house and a few other keys to power remain under Danish control. About two-thirds of the electorate in Greenland support the vision of independence from Denmark at some point in the future, but there is no deadline and relations with Denmark remain cordial, close and cooperative. One half of the public expenditure in Greenland is covered by the annual grant from Denmark. A fifth of all Greenlanders live in Denmark and few envisage that Greenland will sever all ties to Denmark, the royals, access to the Danish educational system and so forth, even if Greenland should one day formally become an independent state.

Thus, president Trump’s notion that Greenland, including all of its 57,000 inhabitants with their distinct language, unique culture, democratic institutions and the rest of it could be sold and bought as a simple piece of real estate collided head on with all current views in Denmark and Greenland of normality, the status of the kingdom, the value of history and respectful interchange between peoples as the foundation of the current order of our times.

The dilemma is, as we now have to assume, that to Trump and to those who first suggested the purchase to him, Greenland may mean something different — or at least something in addition to the above.

[Trump’s dream of a US Greenland purchase has a surprisingly long and complex history]

Since 1823, when the Monroe Doctrine was first conceived of in Washington, the U.S. has allowed no other powers to extend their sovereignty onto the American continent. In this sense, Greenland stands out. Trump explicitly recognizes that Greenland is a part of the Danish Kingdom — 99 percent of the Kingdom’s territory to be precise — but geographically and strategically Greenland’s 2.1 million square kilometers constitute part of the American continent. They form a crucial buffer-zone between the U.S. and several nations that are on its list of main adversaries: China, Russia and North Korea. During the Cold War, Greenland and the Arctic was heavily militarized, it was a buffer between the Soviet Union and the U.S., and the geography has not changed.

Also, we have to record that the president’s thoughts of buying Greenland is only the latest sign of rapidly increasing U.S. interests in Greenland. Washington is reopening its diplomatic office in Nuuk after 66 years of absence. The U.S. ambassador to Copenhagen, Carla Sands, is a frequent guest in Greenland; in July she studied uranium and rare earth minerals in the south of Greenland with representatives of the US State Department. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency under the U.S. Department of Defense is currently using satellites to map all ice free land in Greenland — an area the size of Sweden — in close cooperation with Denmark and Greenland. In September 2018, the U.S. Air Force let it be known that it is considering investing in new airport facilities in Greenland. Thule Air Base, including its large radar, crucial to American missile defense, is regularly upgraded.

Russia and China

Copenhagen and Nuuk are well aware that the U.S. is focused on Russian and Chinese activities in the Arctic.

Russia is re-militarizing its Arctic regions. New bases have been established along Russia’s Arctic coast and old bases have been reopened, including on Franz Josef Land, a group of islands some 900 kilometers from the North Pole. From here, theoretically, Russian fighter jets could reach Thule Air Base with conventional weapons and disable a central component of America’s missile defense — the radar at Thule — without igniting a nuclear Armageddon.

U.S. strategists are also focused on China’s push for more influence in the Arctic, access to natural resources and the Arctic sea lanes. China calls itself a “near-Arctic” state and has invested heavily in oil and gas in the Russian Arctic. For a time, China’s largest construction company, China Communications Construction Company, was among those bidding to build two large new airports in Greenland, potentially with Chinese state funding. Chinese involvement was thwarted in 2018 only after after consultations between Denmark and the U.S.

[How a dispute over China and Greenland’s airports worked its way toward a solution]

Several signals from the U.S. indicate that it aims to push back strongly against these Russian and Chinese developments in the Arctic. The U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made a hardline speech in Finland in May to this effect, followed by a June 2019 Arctic Strategy paper from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Now, the governments in Copenhagen and Nuuk are reading Trump’s interest in Greenland in this security context and they remember that this is not the first U.S. offer to buy Greenland.

As an answer to Danish suggestions that the U.S. should vacate its bases in Greenland after World War II, then-U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes in a 1946 meeting with his Danish counterpart suggested exactly the same — that the U.S. should buy Greenland — and he was dead serious.

It was then that the Danish government understood that the US is not likely to leave Greenland ever. Denmark refused the sale, but in the following years the model we know today emerged. Denmark became a member of NATO, and in 1951 an accord, which still stands today as the key binding agreement on Greenland, was reached between Denmark and the U.S. Today, this accord provides the U.S. with rich opportunities for increasing its military presence in Greenland. Thule Air Base can be upgraded as new needs are identified, and new bases can be established as long as Denmark and Greenland agrees. Which — as Denmark’s prime minister and Greenland’s premier has clearly indicated — they are very likely to do.

Open for business

Looking at the bright side, the administration in Nuuk will no doubt celebrate how media from all over the world are suddenly asking what Greenland wants. Greenland is on a permanent hunt for foreign investors; a diplomatic office was opened in Washington in 2014 for this reason, and when the Wall Street Journal first broke the story of Donald Trump’s desire to perhaps buy Greenland, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Nuuk send out the following tweet:

Greenland MFA ??@GreenlandMFA

is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism. We’re open for business, not for sale❄️????? learn more about Greenland on:

This blogpost was copied from and updated on Sunday August 25th to reflect the telephone conversation between Mette Frederiksen and Donald Trump on Thursday 22. August. 



Michael Pompeo split the Arctic Council – so how is it that Arctic cooperation continues?

maj 10, 2019 • Af

US secretary of state Micheal Pompeo caused a lasting storm at the Arctic Council this week, but behind the scenes an important accommodation evolved. It escaped much of the media coverage, which rightly focussed on Pompeo’s attacks on China and Russia, but it remains crucial to Arctic cooperation.

US secretary of State Michael Pompeo (right) and Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting 7. May in Rovaniemi

On Tuesday 7. May 2019 the foreign ministers of the eight Arctic states, who met in Finland for a key Arctic Council meeting, failed to reach consensus on a joint declaration that was to guide the Council for the next two years.

This was historical.

The US-delegation, led by foreign secretary Michael Pompeo, did not allow any mention of climate change in the proposed declaration, a position that proved unacceptable to the other seven nations at the table.

Less than 48 hours before the meeting, on Sunday, the US reportedly presented with no prior warning its own suggestion for a joint text, but to little avail. The ministerial meeting came and went without a full consensus, and we now know that the Arctic states are fully unable to agree on how to address climate change, even if this is one the most pressing issues for many who live in the Arctic. Instead, the ministers signed a meagre one-page joint-ministerial statement devoid of any mention of climate change and just strong enough to allow the Council to continue its work.

As the dust settled, however, I began to understand why the diplomats still seemed so surprisingly calm and how the lack of a joint declaration was somewhat tempered by a swift move by the Finnish chairmanship — details to follow.

At first, a number of observers in Rovaniemi reacted to the missing declaration with forecasts of doom and looming havoc to much Arctic cooperation. I was happy when, a few hours after the dramatic finale, Laura Meller, an Arctic advisor to the Nordic branch of Greenpeace, offered me another perspective:

“I think it is actually encouraging that the other seven governments put climate change first instead of finding the lowest common denominator with the US no matter how little that was. If we could solve climate change by signing declarations, we would be in quite a nice spot, but we know that what really matters is how fast we can move away from the age of fossil fuels“, she said.

Which is a helping hand really, because, let me guess, most readers are probably still, like me, trying to figure out how to meaningfully interpret the avalanche of events that rolled over Rovaniemi, the main town in Finland’s Arctic region, where the meeting took place.

This was the first ever full fledged formal gathering of the foreign ministers of the Arctic to come to an end without a joint declaration. At no other stage since the 1996 birth of the Arctic Council has such division emerged; the Council by default cannot make decisions without consensus. Thus, it seems clear that the Rovaniemi ministerial calls for a re-think of current conditions for Arctic cooperation, even if Laura Meller insists on not losing perspective.

The Arctic foreign ministers meet only every second year, and it is by no means a small matter. Besides Michael Pompeo, also Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was there. These events are scrupulously prepared by scores of specialised diplomats and negotiations on the intended outcome this time around began more than two months in advance – some say they began at the previous ministerial in Fairbanks in 2017.

The Arctic foreign ministers and represenatives of the Arctic peoples, Rovaniemi, May 2019. Foto: Martin Breum

The ministerial meetings also bring together representatives of all the Arctic indigenous peoples, the so-called permanent participants, without whom no key decisions are made. Also, the observers states of the Arctic Council are there, which means literally scores of officials from Beijing, Tokyo, New Delhi, Bruxelles, Singapore and other capitals. Also, there are people from observer-organisations like the World Wildlife Foundation, the World Meteorological Organisation, from the six scientific working groups of the Arctic Council, its task forces plus the media. In total, we were probably more than two hundred people, not counting security, gathered in Lappi Areena in Rovaniemi, which on many other days serves as an ice-hockey stadium.

Not only did this meeting fail to produce the important joint declaration. It also entirely missed another target; that of a longer term Arctic Council strategy. The work on such a strategy was set in motion at the previous ministerial – in part by efforts by the USA. This strategy was for long negotiated among the Arctic nations as something that could possibly be adopted in Rovaniemi as a tool to sharpen the focus of the Arctic Council and provide ground for new initiatives and ambitions. The whole idea was put on hold, though, some time prior to Rovaniemi when it became clear just how adamant the US was that no recognition of climate change and its impacts in the Arctic, nor any joint efforts to counter the challenge would meet Washington’s approval.

Such internal division is of course remarkable. But perhaps even more telling was how the Rovaniemi meeting got framed by an unexpectedly confrontational speech made by Michael Pompeo on Monday afternoon. The secretary’s address was announced just days prior to Rovaniemi and it was not formally a part of the ministerial meeting. But it was made at Lappi Areena, the same location used for the ministerial, in front of tv-cameras from all over the world and only hours before the ministers were to meet for their formal dinner and subsequent talks.

Michael Pompeo’s speech came to be, so to speak, part of the assembled package and like the absence of a joint declaration it spelled out in a language quite foreign to the consensus-oriented Arctic Council how the world view and policies of President Donald Trump’s administration is now making a real difference in the Arctic.

Outi Snellman in particular made me aware of this. Outi Snellman is vice-president and head of the Rovaniemi-based international secretariat of the University of the Arctic, or UArctic, a collaborative organisation embracing some 203 universities all over the world. Outi Snellman has been instrumental to Arctic cooperation from the very beginning in the early 1990’s as it all started — in Rovaniemi.

Building on a historic 1987 speech in Murmansk by then leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, who asked for the Arctic to be transformed into a zone of peace, science and cooperation as the Cold War was ending, representatives of the Arctic states, including the Soviet Union, crafted the so-called Rovaniemi Declaration and kick-started a process of joint efforts on environmental protection, science and other collaboration in the Arctic. This was dubbed the Rovaniemi-process and later evolved into the Arctic Council.

Fast forward to Michael Pompeo’s speech in May 2019. Somini Sengupta of the New York Times wrote an account from Lappi Areena aptly headlined “United States Rattles Arctic Talks With a Sharp Warning to China and Russia”. The following are excerpts:

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday sharply warned China and Russia against “aggressive” actions in the Arctic, while resisting a diplomatic push by other countries in the region to avert the worst effects of climate change.

“This is America’s moment to stand up as an Arctic nation,” Mr. Pompeo said. “The region has become an arena of global power and competition.”

Mr. Pompeo was particularly pointed in his remarks on China, which has observer status at the Arctic Council, warning that Beijing’s efforts to build infrastructure in the region and partner with Russia on new sea routes could risk turning the Arctic into another area of competing territorial claims, like the South China Sea. “China’s pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere will inform how it treats the Arctic,” he said.

The speech was strong on warnings against China’s rising presence in the Arctic and against Russia’s military build-up in the region, and on Tuesday afternoon, Outi Spellman was still bewildered:

“I think the governments will have to chew on this for a while,” she said.

“Gorbachev’s speech laid the foundation for this region as a region of peace and collaboration. It has served as a strong guarantee for peace. This is the first time that the language Pompeo voiced has entered the discussion of the Arctic Council. Pompeo did not focus on the possibilities for fruitful collaboration but on possible conflict,” she found. She reminded me how the Arctic Council was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize only some 15 months ago; something which is now unlikely to happen again soon.  

Another veteran of Arctic cooperation, Timo Koivurova, director of the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, told me that he did not expect the lack of consensus on climate change to cause much impact in the short term to the practical work of the Arctic Council.

“It is the long term impact that I am worried about,” he said only minutes after the end of the ministers’ meeting.

“If Trump is re-elected in 2020 and this administration just keeps on going, I think we will have serious challenge within the Arctic Council. So much of the work of the Arctic Council stems from climate change and its consequences, and if that is a no-go area… now that’s what I am worried about,” he told me.

However, like other experts Koivurova also stressed the importance of a document that emerged as a result of very last minute behind-the-doors dealings. This document was put forward by the head of the ministerial meeting, Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini, simply as a Statement from the Chair. This is not a format commonly part of the outcome of an Arctic Council ministerial but the document nonetheless soon appeared on the Arctic Council’s website very much as a result of the meeting.

And here is point: The Statement from the Chair contains everything that most would have expected from a formal declaration from the Rovaniemi meeting. Here are long and heavy paragraphs on the challenges that climate change brings to the Arctic. Here are recommendations on biodiversity, black carbon emissions, sustainable development, science cooperation, preservation of wetlands and scores of other subjects key to the work of the Arctic Council. One paragraph shows how the disagreement on climate change was handled:

“A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience and welcomed the outcomes of the UNFCCC COP24 in Katowice, including the Paris agreement work programme,” it reads.

The document also spells out how the eight Arctic nations agreed on a new mechanism to coordinate work within the Arctic states on marine issues. Things are moving forward.

The statement was signed only by Timo Soini, Finland’s foreign minister, the chair of the meeting, not by the rest of the ministers. But it would obviously not have passed as a formal part of the outcome of the ministerial without the consent also of the US delegation and secretary Pompeo.

The US in Rovaniemi demonstrated its refusal to take part in any real climate change work in the Arctic, just as it has opted out elsewhere — for instance by refusing to take part in negotiations prior to the UN climate summit in New York in September and by dislodging from the Paris accords.

But a level of accomodation, something close to a compromise, was established as the US implicitly recognized basically everything else that goes on  within the Arctic Council.

“The US was very much alone in this,” Timo Koivurova surmised afterwards.

“The lack of a declaration is very unfortunate, very symbolic. But we still have the Joint Ministerial Statement and the Statement from the Chair. There you will find all that is needed to continue the work of the Arctic Council”, he said.

This arcticle is a re-write of a version that first appeared 09. May on 


Nye kort over Grønland – i samarbejde med USA

marts 19, 2019 • Af

Siden nytår har jeg arbejdet på en artikel til Weekendavisen om den såkaldte nykortlægning af samtlige isfrie områder i Grønland. Det er det mest ambitiøse kortlægning af Grønland nogensinde. For den tilfældigt forbipasserende kan det måske synes hverdagsagtigt, men projektet eksemplificerer på fineste vis både styrker og svagheder i rigsfællesskabet, og så illustrerer det samtidig intensiteten i Danmarks samarbejde med USA. Det amerikanske forsvar bidrager med satellitfoto af samtlige isfrie områder i Grønland – et område, der svarer til to tredjedele af Afghanistan. Samarbejdet om kortlægning er blevet konsolideret i Afghanistan, Libyen og andre konfliktområder og udstrækkes nu til Grønland.

Selve artiklen i Weekendavisen kan læses her 

Mange kort i Grønland er stadig baseret på flyfoto optaget fra sådanne Heinkel-maskiner i 1930’erne. – men nu er nye digitale kort på vej.

Undervejs besøgte jeg de ansvarlige for projektet i Styrelsen for Dataforsyning og Effektivisering og i Forsvarets Materiel- og Indkøbstyrelse i Ballerup. Jeg talte med de ansvarlige i Grønland, både i Asiaq – Greenland Survey og med Vittus Qujaukitsoq, naalakkersuisoq for finanser i Nuuk. Endelig fik jeg en glad bruger i røret: Lederen af Arktisk Kommandos operationer, Jakob Rousøe.

Her er lidt af, hvad jeg fandt ud af:

Det er den danske stats ansvar at sikre kortlægningen af hele riget, men i Grønland er indsatsen i årtier foregået i lavt tempo. Borgerne i Grønland og andre, der har brug for et kort over det åbne land, må ofte lade sig nøje med landkort baseret på luftfoto fra 1930’erne eller i lidt bedre fald flyfoto fra 1970’erne og 1980’erne.

Sådanne kort er ikke meget bevendte. De korresponderer f.eks. ikke med almindelig GPS-teknologi, og problemerne rækker fra de seriøse, hvor redningsindsatser bliver svækket og kystnær sejlads bringes i fare, til det bizarre. Når lovlydige borgere indberetter korrekt GPS-position af nyoprettede hytter på den grønlandske kyst, er det ikke usædvanligt, at Nuuk-myndighedernes gamle og upræcise kort viser, at hytterne tilsyneladende er opført et godt stykke ude i havet.

Situationen har længe været prekær, også for forsvarets opgaver i Grønland, men nu sker der noget. Den hidtil mest omfattende kortlægning af de isfrie områder i Grønland er i de seneste måneder sat i værk i et fintvævet samarbejde mellem de professionelle kortlæggere i Styrelsen for Dataforsyning og Effektivitet, Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsstyre, og Forsvarets Materiel- og Indkøbsstyrelse i Ballerup, der trækker på et mangeårigt samarbejde med det amerikanske forsvar.

Nye digitale kort, komplette med tusinder af korrekt placerede grønlandske stednavne, præcist markerede veje, søer, elve, vandrestier og talrige andre faste objekter produceres nu i både civil og militær udgave.

“En egentlig, samlet kortlægning af hele det isfrie område i Grønland er ikke sket i mange år. I mellemtiden er Grønland blevet geopolitisk rigtig interessant, og der er stort behov i de grønlandske forvaltninger i forbindelse med råstofudvinding og anden erhvervsudvikling. Den enkelte borger i Grønland har brug for kort, og hele klimadagsordenen tilsiger også, at vi skal kortlægge Grønland på ny,” siger kontorchef Thomas Damsgaard i Styrelsen for Dataforsyning og Effektivisering.

I de seneste næsten tre år har han sammen med projektleder, landinspektør Lola Bahl i et pilotprojekt finansieret af A.P. Møller Fonden produceret moderne, digitale kort over de første 80.000 kvadratkilometer i Grønland. Her undersøgte de sammen med kolleger fra Asiaq-Greenland Survey, det grønlandske selvstyres geodatavirksomhed i Nuuk, hvordan nye digitale geodata bedst tilpasses lokale grønlandske behov, og de konstaterede ikke mindst, at flyfoto ikke længere er nødvendige.

Højtopløselige satellitfoto viste sig at være fuldt tilstrækkelige som grundlag for den visualisering og bearbejdning af data, der i dag ligger til grund for moderne kort i høj kvalitet.

Sidste efterår faldt finansieringen i Danmark på plads, 60 millioner i alt, inklusive 11 millioner fra forsvaret og 15 fra A.P. Møller Fonden. Energi-, forsynings- og klimaminister Lars Christian Lilleholt mødtes med Vittus Qujaukitsoq, finansansvarlig i Naalakkersuisut, Grønlands landsstyre, og Grønland bidrager nu med ajourføring af stednavne, brugerinvolvering i Grønland, lokalkendskab og to millioner kroner.

“Det første sted, hvor kortene virkelig vil gøre gavn, er i redningsarbejdet. Ved tsunamien i Karratfjorden i 2017 var vores kort nærmest ikke-anvendelige, så vi måtte lave noget fra alternative kilder,” forklarer direktøren for Asiaq-Greenland Survey, Bo Naamansen, over telefon fra Nuuk. Et fjeldskred udløste en tsunami, som dræbte fire, bygden Nuugaatsiaq måtte rømmes for altid, og i Grønland frygter man nu, at ændringerne i klimaet vil udløse flere fjeldskred og tsunamier.

Kortmanglen har også frustreret byggeri af vandkraftværker, højspændingsledninger, havne, turisme-erhvervet, forskningsprojekter og beskyttelsen af fortidsminder. Grønland har selv overtaget ansvaret for at kortlægge byer og bygder, men regeringen i København har fortsat ansvaret for både søkort og kortlægning af det åbne land i Grønland, og trægheden har skabt  ærgrelse på begge områder.

Søkortene, der sorterer under Geodatastyrelsen i Aalborg, er særligt forsinkede. Rigsrevisionen har rykket siden 2012, fordi den mangel på søkort, der hersker for store dele af de grønlandske farvande, er til fare for den voksende skibstrafik i Grønland, men Geodatastyrelsen mistede 13 af 14 involverede medarbejdere ved udflytningen fra København i 2016, så mere mærkbare fremskridt skal man på land for at finde.

De eksisterende kort over landmasserne udenfor byerne, hvoraf mange som nævnt er baseret på gamle flyfoto, findes ofte kun i formatet 1:100.000 eller 1:250.000, hvor en kvadratkilometer er bare fire millimeter på hver led. De nye digitale kort over de isfrie områder produceres i formatet 1:50.000, hvor en kvadratkilometer bliver 25 gange større. Præcise højdekurver vil give ny klarhed over landets vertikale beskaffenhed, mens den centrale opgave med korrekt placering af de grønlandske stednavne sikres via samarbejdet med Asiaq-Greenland Survey og Grønlands Sprogsekretariat. Endelig implementeres hele den digitale infrastruktur, så de omfattende data bliver integrerbare både i Grønlands egne IT-systemer og i forsvarets systemer.

“Det er rigtigt positivt, at det hele endelig er på plads. Jeg husker frustrationen over ventetiden helt tilbage fra mit første job i Asiaq i 1995,” siger Bo Naamansen.

Vittus Qujaukitsoq, den ansvarlige fra Grønlands landsstyre, er ivrig tilhænger af Grønlands løsrivelse, men han er glad for nykortlægningen, og landsstyret har engageret sig i projektet og udbredelsen af de nye kort i Grønland:

“Vi har presset på i en del år, men nu, hvor vi er i gang, kan jeg kun være glad for den samarbejdsvilje, der er vist fra den danske regering,” siger Qujaukitsoq. Jeg spørger, om kortlægningen måske kan være med til at forlænge rigsfællesskabets levetid, men sådan ser han det ikke:

“Projektet viser, at rigsfællesskabet fungerer. Klimaforandringerne bringer stadig nye opdagelser, når isen forsvinder — nye landskaber og øer — og vi skal øge sikkerheden for sejladsen. Men den træghed og de hindringer, vi er stødt på undervejs, er en lærebog i, hvordan viljen nok er til stede, men at ressourcerne og kapaciteten ikke nødvendigvis følger med. Grønland er uomtvisteligt på vej til selvstændighed. Det er ikke Danmarks gode viljer, der afgør, hvornår selvstændigheden kommer,” siger han.

De nye kort produceres i en tid, hvor den sikkerhedspolitiske interesse for Grønland vokser, og det amerikanske forsvar bidrager til det ny kortlægningsprojekt med satellitbilleder af hele Grønlands kyst; et område på 450.000 kvadratkilometer – cirka ti gange Jylland, Fyn og Øerne eller to tredjedele af Afghanistan. Optagelsen af satellitbillederne skal hele vejen rundt langs kysten og optages som en lang bane, så der dannes et sammenhængende billede; det gør processen mere kompliceret end optagelse af enkeltbilleder.

De amerikanske satellitbilleder anvendes til produktionen af både civile og militære kort. Satellitbillederne må dog ikke offentliggøres og kan derfor ikke stilles frit tilgængelig som en del af den samlede civile kortlægning. Derfor er der stadig behov for at købe andre satellitbilleder, der kan offentliggøres, men de amerikanske billeder har høj opløsningsgrad og hjælper de danske kortlæggeres kvalitetskontrol.

Samarbejdet med USA er forankret i Multinational Geospacial Co-production Programme, MGCP, hvor mere end 30 vestlige nationer i fællesskab producerer militære kort. Kontakten varetages i det daglige af militærgeograf, chefkonsulent Marlene Meyer fra Forsvarets Materiel- og Indkøbsstyrelse (FMI), der i de seneste ti år blandt andet har koordineret Danmarks bidrag til den internationale digitale kortlægning af Afghanistan, Syrien og andre krigsskuepladser. Danmark har i dag status som “lead nation” i MGCP, og i forsvaret opfattes det amerikanske bidrag til kortlægningen i Grønland som et godt eksempel på udbyttet af det internationale forsvarssamarbejde.

En analyse fra FMI viste allerede i 2012, at kortlægningen i Grønland var forældet. På det tidspunkt var samarbejdet med USA og Danmarks andre allierede om kortlægningen af Afghanistan og andre krigszoner veletableret, og da de danske samarbejdspartnere foreslog en ny kortlægning af Grønland, blev det vel modtaget.

Partneren i USA er det amerikanske forsvars National Geospacial Intelligence Agency, NGA, der på nettet præsenterer sig som “en unik kombination af efterretningsvæsen og kampstøttecenter.” Det er NGA, der leder det internationale samarbejde i Multinational Geospacial Co-production Programme, og den danske produktion udstrækkes nu til Grønland. Forsvaret kan anvende det eksisterende produktions-mønster som model for kontrakter, specifikationer og kvalitetssikring og efterfølgende bliver datamaterialet stillet til rådighed både for Danmarks allierede og det civile samfund i Grønland.

Kommandørkaptajn Jakob Rousøe, operativ chef ved Arktisk Kommando i Nuuk, forklarer, at forsvaret i Grønland ikke bare ser frem til de nye korts øgede præcision, men også til at kunne udveksle digitale kortudsnit mellem skibe, fly og kommandocentral og med udenlandske partnere. Kortene vil fungere som sømløse digitale kort, hvor forsvarets medarbejdere kan zoome og scrolle uanset, hvilken del af Grønland, de færdes i.

“Bare det, at alle fremover kan referere til samme internationalt anerkendte kort, er en kæmpe værdi,” siger han. De præcise højdekurver på de militære kort vil eksempelvis gøre det sikrere at flyve i Grønland med de amerikansk producerede F35-jagerfly, som både Danmark og US Air Force fremover skal arbejde med. Kortene vil hjælpe, hvis helikopterne skal undsætte nødstedte krydstogtpassagerer på kysten, og de vil være nyttige under sejlads ved kysten i tåge, eller når nødpakker skal kastes ned til fangere eller turister i vanskeligheder i fjeldet.

Endelig skal kortene udruste forsvaret til fremtidens militære opgaver. Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste viser i sin seneste risikovurdering fra december, at jagerfly fra Ruslands nye baser på øerne i Det Arktiske Ocean nu kan nå de amerikanske installationer på Thule-basen langt hurtigere end før.

“Efterretningsfolkene taler mere om den russiske og kinesiske aktivitet i Arktis end tidligere. Det er gået hurtigere, end de fleste forudså. Det er en slags paradigmeskifte,” siger Rousøe, der er tidligere militærattaché i Washington og nøje følger USAs interesse for Grønland.

En topembedsmand fra USAs forsvarsministerium, John Rood, overraskede i september, da han under besøg på Thule-basen kundgjorde, at USA overvejer nye investeringer i lufthavne i Grønland. Amerikanske fly opererer hyppigere end før fra Island i jagten på russiske ubåde, og den amerikanske flåde har genetableret sin Second Fleet, der fra Nordatlanten forsvarer USAs østkyst.

“Det er altid svært at læse, hvad der styrer de sikkerhedspolitiske interesser i USA, men det er næppe forkert at sige, at Grønland spiller en mere relevant rolle i dag end for bare få år siden,” siger Jakob Rousøe.

Den ny kortlægning ventes afsluttet i 2022.



Plastic pollution increasing at the top of the Earth

januar 26, 2019 • Af

Increasing amounts of plastic pollution is being detected in Europe’s most northern Arctic regions. This week in Tromsø, I learned how scientists are registering high concentrations of microplastic particles not only in Arctic waters but also in the Arctic ice and snow. Indications are that plastic pollution has reached the still ice-encapsulated North Pole, thousand of kilometers from human habitation.

“Our latest knowledge indicates that plastics really are everywhere now. It is difficult to find anywhere in the Arctic that is not affected, and there is no way to remove microplastics from neither the ocean, the ice or the snow,” senior researcher Dorte Herzke from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research told me.

More than 30 plastic bags were found in the stomach of a beached Cuvier’s beaked
whale in Norway in 2017. Scientists blamed the garbage for the whales death. Photo:
Christoph Noever / University of Bergen

New scientific evidence of plastic litter in the Arctic was presented earlier this week in Tromsø, the main city of Norway’s Arctic north.

Frustration in the sparsely populated Arctic is growing as the overwhelming majority of the plastic litter stems from other parts of the world:

“The debate changed completely two years ago, when we had a whale that came ashore, its belly full of plastic bags. Everyone realized that this was something the whale had gotten into its stomach on its long travels. It brought to our attention that many of the countries that are most affected by marine litter do not produce that litter themselves,” Norway’s foreign minister, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, said. Søreide and several other government officials attended this years so-called Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø designed to bring science and politics together.

Marine plastic pollution, much of it garbage from the Asia-Pacific region but also from Europe, is pushed into the Arctic seas by global ocean currents, but scientists are also increasingly detecting microscopic plastic particles brought to the Arctic by long-range winds. Falling snow washes these microscopic plastic fragments into the ocean or deposits them on the ice-cover on the oceans.

We can basically follow this concentration of plastic from the atmosphere down through the ice, through the water column and to the sediments on the ocean floor. And don’t forget this is in the Arctic which is already under threat from significant climate change,“ Dr. Ilka Peeken told med. She is a sea-ice ecologist of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany.

During cruises with Polarstern, a research vessel of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Peeken and her colleagues drilled cores from ice-floes, some originating as far north as the Makarov Basin in the central part of the Arctic Ocean close to the North Pole. These cores contained “an extremely high number” of microplastic particles, she said.

She now worries that plastic will affect the fragile eco-system in the Arctic: “My own theory is that the sea-ice itself further fragments the plastic into even smaller particles. Because sea-ice is so cold, the so-called brine channels in the ice gets very salty, and the salt may further fragments the plastic“ she said.

If proven, this may present a new layer of environmental dilemmas:

“The problem is that the smaller the particles get, the more damage they may do. Today, we talk of nano-plastics where the particles are so small that they can penetrate cells, and there are studies to suggest that they might cause cell damage” Peeken said.    

Norway’s Special Representative for the Oceans, Vidar Helgesen, pointed to the EU as a significant ally:

“The EU’s plastic strategy and its circular economy package is very important. Norway is part of the single market and we welcome common European approaches. The EU-ban on single-use plastics will have a tremendous effect, because the EU is such a big market,” he told me. 

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee this week approved new EU rules on plastic pollution proposed by the EU Comission, including a complete ban on some single-use plastic products often found on European beaches.

As for saving the Arctic against more plastics, Vidar Helgesen, who formerly served as Norway’s Minister for EU Affairs, was only cautiously optimistic:

“I am not sure that in ten years we will have less plastics in the oceans than we have today, but the flow of plastics into the oceans will be smaller. The attention to the issue among the electorate and at the highest political level is a good sign, but sadly we will see for a number of years increased plastic in the oceans before new measures will take effect. You have a number of countries particularly in the Asia-Pacific where it is critically important to get waste management systems into place and where it will take time,” he said.

Scientists stress that studies of plastics in the Arctic are still few and that they still have more questions than answers. A new scientific research project in Tromsø will aim particularly at plastic pollution and Norway is stepping up diplomatic efforts to stem the global tide of plastic litter; an initiative closely linked to Norway’s plans to increase exploitation of marine resources including oil and gas, subsea minerals, fisheries, aquaculture, shipping and tourism.   

“If we are to succeed at creating the jobs of the future and solve the global challenges we have no other choice than to release the enormous potentials of the ocean,” Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg wrote in an op-ed on just prior to this week’s Arctic Frontiers conference.

A total of five government ministers insisted in Tromsø that increased exploitation of the seas, including more oil drillings in Norway’s Arctic seas, can be done sustainably — an argument hotly disputed by environmentalists and some scientists.     

Prime Minister Erna Solberg last year launched a global High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy Panel, which includes (as the only member from an EU country) Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa as well as leaders from Australia, Chile, Fiji, Japan and other countries. Erna Solberg’s stated objective is three-pronged – to “produce, protect and prosper”.

Dette indlæg blev først bragt på 25. januar 2019. 


Her er den egentlige forskel på dansk og grønlandsk syn på fremtiden

januar 18, 2019 • Af

En ny undersøgelse af grønlændernes holdning til løsrivelse fra Danmark afdækker en afgrundsdyb forskel på, hvad danske politikere forestiller sig, og det som en tredjedel af vælgerne i Grønland forventer af Grønlands eventuelle løsrivelse. Mens danske politikere gerne fortæller, hvordan Grønland vil opleve et dramatisk drop i velfærden, hvis løsrivelsen skulle blive en realitet, er en stor del af den grønlandske befolkning overbevist om, at løsrivelsen vil gavne den grønlandske økonomi og dermed deres egne livsbetingelser.

På vej til fremtiden – store dele af grønlænderne mener, at løsrivelse vil være godt for økonomien. Foto: Martin Breum

Undersøgelsen, der er lavet under kyndig vejledning af professorerne Minik Rosing og David Dreyer Lassen på Københavns Universitet, dokumenterer først, at 67,7 procent af alle voksne bosat i Grønland ønsker, at Grønland på et eller andet tidspunkt i fremtiden bliver en uafhængig stat løsrevet fra Danmark.

Den del af undersøgelsen vil næppe overraske mange på Christiansborg. To gange tidligere har et lille analysefirma i Nuuk, H.S. Analyse, vist tilsvarende opbakning til visionen om løsrivelse. Det nye i undersøgelsen er, at den viser, hvordan 43,5 procent af de grønlandske tilhængere af løsrivelse mener, at en afslutning på rigsfællesskabet, som vi kender det, vil have “positiv” eller endog “meget positiv” indvirkning på Grønlands økonomi. 62,3 procent af dem, der siger at de ville stemme ja til løsrivelse, selvom løsrivelsen skulle finde sted straks, mener, at løsrivelsen ville medføre forbedringer af økonomien. 

Det har vi ikke før haft dokumentation for, og man kan hurtigt opregne flere grunde til, hvorfor danske politikere formentlig kan have glæde af at spekulere lidt videre over den nyhed.

For de grønlandske politikere er det formentlig tankevækkende, at der er så stor forskel på forventningerne til løsrivelsen i Grønland. Blandt modstanderne af løsrivelsen mener 79 procent nemlig, at løsrivelsen vil have “negative” eller “meget negative” konsekvenser.

Der er med andre ord og uanset, hvad man selv mener, en oplagt risiko for at splitte den grønlandske befolkning i to grupper med meget forskellige fremtidsopfattelser. Man behøver blot at tænke på Brexit og den lammelse, der har ramt Storbritannien, for at ane, hvor destruktivt en sådan kløft kan udvikle sig.

For den videre dansk-grønlandske diskussion kan vi konstatere, at 43,5 procent af alle tilhængerne af løsrivelse i Grønland er meget langt fra at være enige i den analyse af løsrivelsens potentielle konsekvenser, der ofte lægges til grund i Danmark.

Statsminister Lars Løkke Rasmussen og andre har fra folketingets talerstol gerne gjort opmærksom på, hvordan 52 procent af de offentlige udgifter i Grønland fortsat finansieres af det årlige bloktilskud fra Danmark. Og så føjer de gerne til, at Grønlands søgrænser, politivæsen, fiskerikontrol og redningstjeneste fortsat opretholdes uden mange omkostninger for Grønland blandt andet i kraft af det danske forsvars Arktiske kommando og de tilhørende fly, skibe og det specialiserede mandskab. Denne faktaboks bruges af danske politikere i mange forskellige aftapninger; den kan uddybes i detaljer om plejehjem, skoler, børneomsorg og andre velfærdsgoder, som angiveligt vil mangle, hvis bloktilskuddet engang skulle blive blokeret, fordi grønlænderne vælger at løsrive sig.

På samme måde — omend med mindre direkte politisk fortolkning – leverer  Grønlands Økonomiske Råd, ofte repræsenteret ved Rådets formand, den tidligere overvismand i Danmark, Torben M. Andersen, løbende analyser og kommentarer, der viser, hvordan Grønlands økonomi skal forbedres markant, hvis det hele skal hænge sammen på lidt længere sigt; senest præsenterede Torben M. Andersen analysen på den årlige Grønlands-konference i DI.

Torben M. Andersen afholder sig som professionel økonom selvfølgelig fra at mene noget om, hvorvidt Grønland skal løsrive sig eller ej, men Rådets analyser følger samme logik som de danske politikeres. Logikken lyder, at der er så mange udfordringer for langtidsholdbarheden af den grønlandske velfærd, at det selvsagt ikke nytter at rokke for meget ved båden — for slet ikke at tale om at løsrive Grønland fra det åndedrætsopholdende bloktilskud fra den danske statskasse.

Problemet for dialogen mellem Danmark og Grønland er altså ikke —  ved vi nu fra den nye undersøgelse — er at mere end 40 procent af løsrivelsestilhængere i Grønland ikke har fæstet nogen lid til den analyse, der er den gængse i Danmark. De ønsker ikke bare løsrivelse i en eller anden paradoksal trods af den analyse, der dominerer i Danmark; de simpelthen dybt uenige i selve analysens substans.

Graferne i den nye videnskabelige undersøgelse taler deres eget, tydelige sprog: Blandt de 38,4 procent af vælgerne, som ville stemme ja til løsrivelse straks, mener 27,7 procent, at løsrivelse vil have “meget positiv” indvirkning på den grønlandske økonomi, mens 34,6 mener, at effekten vil være “positiv”. Jeg tillader mig at gætte, at en væsentlig del af de samme mennesker faktisk mener, at tilhørsforholdet til Danmark ligefrem er en byrde for den grønlandske økonomi. Det er ikke præcist det, tallene viser, men forestillingen om, at det dansk-grønlandske forhold i økonomisk forstand er til dansk fordel (og i øvrigt længe har været det), har man kunne møde i Grønland længe, og den forestilling har den danske, politiske retorik altså tilsyneladende ikke rokket ved.

Det efterlader en afgørende kløft i dialogen, som ingen hidtil har anvist nogen umiddelbart farbar vej over.

Vi ved ikke, hvordan respondenterne når frem til analysen af de forventede, økonomiske konsekvenser af løsrivelsen. Men undersøgelsen hjælper til at forstå, hvorfor partier, der argumenterer for løsrivelse, lige siden de politiske partiers historie begyndte i Grønland, har høstet den overvejende del af stemmerne, når der er valg i Grønland.

Tallene viser en lidt større opbakning til visionen om løsrivelse i bygderne langs kysten end i de lidt større grønlandske byer. De viser også, at opbakningen er lidt større blandt de grønlændere, der opfatter sig selv som mindre velstående, end blandt dem, der mener, at de i økonomisk forstand har det lidt bedre. Det er ikke store forskelle, men de svarer nogenlunde til den almindelige antagelse, der har været gældende i Grønland i nogle år, nemlig at de løsrivelsesivrige partier har lidt større opbakning blandt vælgerne i de mindre kystsamfund, hvor der er mange fiskere og fangere, end i byerne, hvor der er relativt flere lønmodtagere og folk med formel uddannelse.

Ligesom deres vælgere, synes heller ingen af de toneangivende aktører i grønlandsk politik at dele den økonomiske analyse af løsrivelsens potentielle konsekvenser, der oftes lægges til grund i Danmark.

Der er ingen af de ledende politikere i Grønland, der argumenterer for, at befolkningen i Grønland bør acceptere en nedgang i levestandarden til gengæld for hurtige skridt mod løsrivelse. Velfærdssamfundets vedligeholdelse er i Grønland såvel som i Danmark blevet en fast del af al politiks mål, og det rokker visionen om løsrivelse ikke ved. Politikerne fastholder i stedet mere eller mindre implicit, at løsrivelsen vil styrke Grønland, frisætte flere kræfter, skabe initiativ, nyt mod og fornyet innovation både i det private og i det offentlige, herunder til omlægning af den ganske store, offentlige administration i Grønland, der sluger en pæn bid af det offentlige budget, og som i mange politikeres øjne er en noget klodset klon af den danske centraladministration.

På samme måde kan man også møde det argument, at  løsrivelse vil gøre det nemmere at inddrage de svageste mere aktivt i samfundslivet, fordi de efter løsrivelsen i højere grad vil føle sig anerkendt, blive set og hørt — også selvom de ikke taler dansk.

Den nuværende finansansvarlige i Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsråd, Vittus Qujaukitsoq, gjorde under seneste valgkamp i det tidlige 2018 klart, at han var parat til at acceptere en vis nedgang i levestandarden i Grønland, hvis det var nødvendigt for at fremskynde løsrivelsen, men det var en enlig svale. Han fulgte det ikke op med detaljer, og det var ikke et udsagn, der vakte større furore. Opstanden over denne fravigelse fra hovedreglen udeblev, muligvis fordi Qujaukitsoqs overraskende melding lå fjernt fra den gængse politiske logik i Grønland, som også Vittus Qujaukitsoq som mangeårigt medlem af Siumut, det gamle regeringbærende parti i Grønland, længe har repræsenteret. Qujaukitsoq stiftede fort før valget i april sit eget parti, Nunatta Qitornai, men han opererer i tæt koalitions-symbiose med formanden for Naalakkersuisut, Kim Kielsen, der også er formand for Siumut, og i den alliance har tanken om at give køb på skoler, plejehjem og børneomsorg til gengæld for et hurtigt ryk mod løsrivelsen ingen plads. Løsrivelsen ses snarere som et værktøj til større eller i hvert fald vedligeholdt velfærd, ikke det modsatte. Der findes endnu ingen offentliggjorte, teknisk-økonomiske analyser, der dokumenterer, at løsrivelse ville styrke økonomien, men vi ved nu, at den antagelse har godt fat i vælgerkorpset.

Den nye holdningsanalyse blev offentliggjort i Nuuk i begyndelsen af december. Den  gennemføres af de to ph.d.-studerende: Kelton Ray Minor, der forsker ved Kraks Fond Byforskning og Centre for Social Data Science (SODAS) på Københavns Universitet, og Gustav Agneman fra Økonomisk Institut i Købehavn. De to og fire forskningsassistenter fra Ilisimatusarfik, Grønlands Universitet, opsøgte over to måneder i sommer 606 voksne i 13 byer og bygder fra nord til syd i Grønland, og bad dem udfylde et spørgeskema. Alle respondenter var nøje udvalgt af Grønlands Statistik, der sikrede et repræsentativt udvalg af unge, gamle, by- og bygdeboere. Undersøgelsen viser også, hvordan grønlænderne oplever klimaforandringerne, fiskeriet og udsigterne til minedrift i Grønland. En større rapport med flere tal og analyser ventes til februar. Undersøgelsen er en del af forskningssamarbejdet Greenland Perspective mellem Ilisimatusarfik, universitetet i Nuuk, og Københavns Universitet.

Dette blogindlæg blev i sin oprindelige version bragt som nyhedsanalyse på Altinget:Arktis 9. januar 2019. Den oprindelige tekst indeholdt en unøjagtig fremstilling af flere tal. Både tekst og tal er siden blevet korrigeret. 

Skulle du have lyst til at se, hvordan de første resultater af den nye meningsmåling blev lanceret i Nuuk, ligger hele begivenheden på Youtube. De resultater, der er omtalt ovenfor, præsenteres i den sidste del af seancen:


Did anyone talk about the Arctic at COP24?

januar 2, 2019 • Af


Teenage activist Greta Thunberg is seen inside the venue of the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland. (Kacper Pempel / Reuters)

I keep wondering if anyone really talked about the Arctic in Poland at COP24, the great international climate meet that recently ended? This was for a brief moment the world’s most important arena for the battle against climate change, designed to get the Paris Accords from December 2015 on track — but where was the Arctic?

Looking back at two weeks of intense global media coverage, I wonder where were the heads of states from the Arctic countries blasting away about the effects of climate change in the Arctic?

Where were the key ministers from the eight Arctic governments banging fists against podiums to fuel important speeches about the challenges to the Arctic peoples, the villages ravaged by coastal erosion, the threats to biodiversity, the decimated herds of reindeer, the melt of Greenland’s ice sheet and of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, the buckling infrastructure, the heating oceans, the melting permafrost and how the changes in the Arctic will affect the entire globe?

And indeed, where was the Arctic Council? The body that the Arctic governments so often praise as their common platform, our successful melting pot of good intentions, strategic diplomacy and inclusive Arctic governance? How many times have the Arctic Council issued statements on the need for action against climate change? So why did the new Secretary General of the Arctic Council not stand up in an epic moment, devoid of all falsehood and pretense, to face the cameras and tell the world how the eight Arctic governments had asked her to first of all ask for two minutes of silence — and then go on to declare, on behalf of the eight nations and all the indigenous Arctic peoples, that as from this moment all political activity in these eight Arctic states —  including Russia and the USA —  would be drastically re-designed and focused singularly on the prevention of further, catastrophic heating of the planet — and richly inspired, of course, by the consistent work of the five scientific working groups of the Arctic Council, encompassing hundreds of the most dedicated scientists of this world, who have already long ago documented how urgent action is sorely needed. And excuse us, by the way, for not doing this long ago.

‘No talk about climate’

Sometimes it is good to allow oneself a bit of wanderings like this.

I know of the limits to the mandate of the Secretary General of the Arctic Council and, more importantly, the absence of wider commitments to climate efforts in capitals like Moscow and Washington.

But the absence of newsworthy Arctic interventions from political leaders of USA, Russia or other Arctic states at COP24 in Poland reminds us how climate change in the Arctic does not seem to be what drives the agenda for many key political leaders in the Arctic capitals.

The governments of the Arctic are concerned about sustainable development, which is something quite different. Indeed, few know exactly what the term means, but the governments mostly agree that it does not compel them to focus more seriously on climate change, even if the problem is certainly there in the statements of intent.

The Moscow government has recently announced yet another larger-than-life 5.5 billion-ruble investment plan for the Russian Arctic. A colleague from The Independent Barents Observer in Norway travelled with Russian prime minister Medvedev to the booming oil and gas-center in Sabetta in Russia’s far north Yamal Province to report how the new plan covers “investments in regional infrastructure and natural resource development, including railway construction, new sea ports and development of hydrocarbon and coal fields….There was no talk about the aggravating and potentially devastating climate changes that are unfolding in the Arctic. The meeting headed by Medvedev had its focus not on nature protection, but on exploitation.”

In Alaska, on the U.S. side of the Bering Strait latest news is the revitalizing of plans for a new 200-mile highway to copper fields in the far north — and a rush to drill for more oil in more places on the North Slope, including a long-fought-over wildlife refuge; probably to no-one’s surprise. Economic development has been for years on the top of the agenda of many Arctic communities, and the governments of the Arctic countries have been quick to incorporate this natural desire of the peoples of the Arctic into comprehensive, national strategies for future growth.

Teenager steals the attention

The governments of the Arctic states are home to the most glaring evidence of climate change available on the planet. They are rich in economic resources, in technology and knowledge; they have financed for almost three decades substantial science into just about any aspect of climate science in the Arctic, including science conducted by the Arctic Council’s productive scientific working groups. Hundreds of scientific articles, reports and carefully calibrated suggestions for action have been crafted by scores of conscientious experts from across the Arctic — and yet no-one from the governments of the Arctic really stood up to present all this in Poland. The science by the working groups is of course carefully integrated into IPCC’s reports, but is is not boosted in very visible ways by political leaders.

The Arctic Council, to be fair, was certainly not absent in Poland. The Arctic Council and the government of Finland, which is presently chairing the Arctic Council, co-hosted a 90-minute side event for all interested parties to attend on the heady effects of black carbon in the Arctic. An obvious item for the global audience at COP24. Black carbon, which is basically soot from industries, power-plants, gas-production, cars and households in Europe, the U.S. and Asia, is darkening ice and snow in the Arctic, so that the Arctic absorbs more of the sun’s warmth than before. At the event, starred by the environmental ministers from both Finland and Poland, experts told the audience how this heavy source of climate change could fairly easily be extinguished using existing technologies, and a representative from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition told of worldwide efforts to curb black carbon emission.

Meanwhile, 15 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden stole much of the media attention at COP24 with a three-minute speech. In carefully braided pigtails she faced the global gathering of ministers, diplomats and negotiators of all hues and gave them all she had: “You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared to be unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess,” she said.

I understand that diplomacy is about finding compromise in the real world. I know that it will most probably never happen, but quietly, I allow myself to wonder if any key political representative of a key Arctic government will ever speak about the Arctic with similar nerve.


This blog was first published on  26. December 2018