Canada, Denmark agree on a landmark deal over disputed Hans Island

juni 14, 2022 • Af

With a single sweeping deal, Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark have resolved a 51-year-old territorial dispute over Hans Island in the Kennedy Channel between Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland’s far north. The deal also finalizes the maritime border between Canada and Greenland — the longest maritime border in the world.

Hans Island will be divided into two parts, with the Greenland part slightly larger than the Canadian. The difference occurs because the new border will follow, in line with international norms, a natural phenomena; a rift in the surface of the island that runs from north to south — almost, but not quite, through the middle of the island.

According to the information available, none of the officials involved in the negotiations have visited Hans Island, but the rift on the island that will now be used as the basis of the new border is easily seen on satellite images that have been available to the negotiators.

The border will run from a small bay on the northern shore of Hans Island across the island to its steep southern precipice. Almost 60 percent of the island will be part of Greenland, including the island’s highest point, while the rest will belong to Canada. Both parties will own part of the bay on the north shore; the only landing place on the island.

A satellite image of Hans Island shows a prominent rift that runs near the center of the Island. (Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

At the same time, negotiators have agreed upon the northernmost end of the maritime border between Greenland and Canada in the Arctic Ocean and the southernmost end in the Labrador Sea, with most attention going to the Labrador Sea.

Canada and Denmark, which still holds sovereignty over Greenland, have disagreed for years about the rights to 79,000 square kilometers of seabed in the Labrador Sea, where oil or mineral extraction may be possible in future. According to the new deal the disputed piece of seabed will be split in two; again the Greenlandic part slightly larger than the area allocated to Canada.

A 2018 expedition from Greenland and Denmark visits Hans Island, in the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. (Martin Breum)

Copenhagen and Ottawa both hail the deal as proof that mutually beneficial solutions to difficult territorial disputes can be reached on the basis of international law:

“It is an extremely fine signal to the whole world that you can solve territorial disagreements in a constructive way based on international law. It is exactly this type of message we need in a time when international law is under attack, in particular, of course, by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine,” Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeppe Kofod told ArcticToday.

Message to Moscow

In Copenhagen, before traveling to Ottawa for the formal signing of the deal, Jeppe Kofod told ArcticToday that he expected the new deal to also have a positive influence on future negotiations with Russia over the seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean. There, Canada, Russia and Denmark/Greenland have all made claims that overlap by several hundred thousand square kilometers.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a wholly unacceptable attack on international law” Kofod said. ”But everybody knows how important the Arctic is to Russia. In that region in particular they will have an interest in peaceful cooperation, even if there is conflict in other areas of the world. The agreement between the Kingdom of Denmark and Canada serves as an example that it is possible. They can tell now that it is possible to reach a result where everybody is a winner.”

Island politics

Hans Island is name Tartupaluk  — or “kidneyshaped” — in Greenlandc. It lies in the Kennedy Channel, a mostly frozen strait separating Canada’s Ellesmere Island and the very north of Greenland, some 650 kilometers east of Grise Fiord, the closest civilian settlement in Canada, and 350 kilometers north of Siorapaluk, Greenland’s northernmost township.

Hans Island has an area of 1.25 square kilometers, and its tallest point extends 183 meters above sea. Much of the island’s rock face rises vertically out of the sea; only to the north does it slant more lazily towards the ocean, offering potential visitors scalable access to its flat upper surface.

Most importantly, the islands lies exactly midway between Canada and Greenland. From a visit to Hans Island in 2018 this author remembers the unimpeded frosty views towards Greenland and Canada, both only 18 kilometers away. The island itself appears void of vegetation, its rock floor rounded by the violent storms that used to tear flags hoisted by the Danish soldiers to shreds.

Members of 2018 expedition from Greenland and Denmark visit Hans Island, in the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. (Martin Breum)

The final compromise on the island border was agreed upon at what has been described as a diplomatic marathon in Iceland in November 2021. Final signatures are to be added to the deal Tuesday in Ottawa by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly and Denmark’s Kofod. Also signing will be Muté B. Egede, chairman of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s self-rule government.

The deal seems unlikely to cause much controversy, and independent observers find it laudable:

“This is the solution I have suggested for decades. You will not hear me pointing out all the faults. I can’t see any,” says Michael Byers, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

No rewards

Parts of the maritime border between Canada and Greenland were previously agreed upon in 1973. Negotiators drew a line in the ocean to the shores of Hans Island, but they left the controversial issue of a terrestrial border on the island unresolved.

The lack of a final agreement has pained both sides ever since, even if the island offers basically no material rewards. Geologists at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland told ArcticToday that there might be deposits of zinc and lead on the island, but also that the island is so tiny that commercial mining is very unlikely. Any oil in the adjacent seabed will be more than 400 million years old and either gone or too old to be of use.

Strategically, Hans Island is regarded as equally irrelevant. There are often rumors of Russian submarines in Greenland’s waters. Also, Thule Air Base, the U.S. air base in northern Greenland, lies only a short flight to the south, but Hans Island has spurred no interest from the armed forces of any nation.

Politically, however, the island has long played a role.

In 1984, a Danish minister in charge of Greenlandic affairs raised the Danish flag on Hans Island, thereby initiating decades of national posturing by both Canada and Denmark. From 2000 Danish visits to the island became more frequent as old flags were replaced by new ones. Canada protested in diplomatic notes to Copenhagen, and in 2005 Canada’s then minister of defense landed on Hans Island in what was dubbed Operation Frozen Beaver.

A Danish flag was taken down and confiscated and, according to legend in the Danish foreign service, formally delivered to the Danish embassy in Ottawa in a cardboard box from a local bakery. Legend also goes that Danish and Canadian troops left bottles of spirits to each other whenever on visit to Hans Island; the media has often referred to the conflict as “the whisky war.”

Following the Canadian removal of the Danish flag, Denmark dispatched a naval ship towards Hans Island to raise a new flag. Before the ship reached the island, however, the foreign ministers of Denmark and Canada met in New York and agreed to replace any further gesturing with diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue.

Still, for years, nothing was solved.

Conservative governments in Canada, in particular under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2015, emphasized Canada’s intention to defend by any means its sovereignty in the Arctic.

“Stephen Harper would never have agreed to a partition or to give up Hans Island,” Byers told ArcticToday.

In 2018, diplomatic efforts picked up speed, reportedly on Canada’s initiative. A joint task force, working quietly behind the scenes, was to finally end the affair. In 2015, Canada’s Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau had taken office, eager to better Ottawa’s relations with Canada’s Arctic communities, and the work on outstanding border issues progressed. The Trudeau government favors the kind of value-based foreign policy also pursued by the current Danish government, in office since 2019. After half a century, diplomats eyed a solution.

Inuit influence

On the Danish side, diplomats from Greenland and Denmark worked in tandem to also satisfy Greenlandic wishes. In the preamble to the new arrangement, promises are made that inuit in Greenland and Canada who used to travel on the ice between Canada and Greenland without regard to any borders, will still be able to enjoy unhindered mobility, hunting and fishing. Before the final settlement was reached, officials from Nuuk and Copenhagen twice travelled to Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk, Greenland’s northernmost settlements, to consult with the local communities.

In the preamble to the new deal, there is mention of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, established in 2016 by the Inuit Circumpolar Council to investigate avenues towards joint Inuit control over Pikialasorsuaq, or the North Water Polynya, a vast polynya famous for its abundance of wildlife in the same strait as Hans Island. In the new deal, the governments of Denmark and Canada promise to look at further options for increased Inuit control over relevant matters in the area.

“We will establish a border, but I hope that the border will in fact draw people closer together. The idea is that the practical implications of the border should be minimized to the benefit of those who live in the area and have lived there for generations without being preoccupied with borders,” says Kofod.

Members of 2018 expedition from Greenland and Denmark visit Hans Island, in the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. (Martin Breum)

“The most important is the work that follows to secure cooperation after the agreement on the border. That people are free to move, secure agreements on fish stocks and other resources; anything that is relevant to this geographical area. This will not be up to the Danish government, but to the government of Greenland,” Kofod told ArcticToday.

In Canada, Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the legal representative of the Inuit of Nunavut on native treaty rights and treaty negotiation, hailed the deal in a statement to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail:

“The dispute between Canada and Denmark over Tartupaluk or Hans Island has never caused issues for Inuit. Regardless, it is great to see Canada and Denmark taking measures to resolve this boundary dispute,” Kotierk said.

“As geographic neighbors with family ties, Inuit in Nunavut and Greenland recognize the significance of working together toward our common future. NTI expects this long-standing relationship between Inuit in Nunavut and Greenland to be a symbol of continued co-operation between Canada and Denmark,” she said.

And who is Hans?

Suersaq, who signed his name Hans Hendrik when working for foreign expeditions, was a Greenlandic hunter and doghandler, serving between 1853 and 1883 as a guide, translator and provider of food for five Arctic expeditions. His close encounters with polar bears, grumpy expeditioners and wrecked ships are depicted in his “Memoirs of Hans Hendrik, The Arctic Traveller,” translated from the Greenlandic in 1878.

In the south of Greenland, he and his family were attached to the German mission of the Herrnhuts, until, in 1853, Suersaq took hire with an American polar expedition. His mother, who had recently been widowed, begged him to remain at home, and his farewell-promise burned itself into his memoirs: “If no mischief happen me, I shall return, and I shall earn money for thee.”

Hans Hendrik, however, never returned home. He settled in the north of Greenland. He found life appealing there with plenty of walrus, seals and bears. He married, raised a family and for a series of still more adventurous American and European polar expeditions, he made survival possible.

Notorious in particular were his efforts when in 1872 half of the American Polaris Expedition, who had set sail for the North Pole, got separated from the main party in the ice north of present day Thule Air Base. For seven months the group survived in igloos on ice floes. Also Hans Hendrik’s wife Mequ and their three children, the youngest only a couple of years old, had to make do as waves and heavy currents cut piece after piece off their floes. Meanwhile, the seemingly indefatigable Hans Hendrik and a Canadian inuit colleague hunted seals and bears, meat for the hungry and blubber for their oil lamps. Life was sustained, all survived, saved at the last instant by an American seal hunting vessel after drifting more than 1,500 kilometers at sea.

Hans Hendrik had an island named after him (actually two, but according to Danish author Jane Løve, the other is more of a rock than an island). The naming of Hans Island took place during the better days of the Polaris Expedition in 1871. Expedition leader C.F. Hall pointed out the island, named it, but then died a few months later. The name stuck, but we have no knowledge of C.F. Hall’s reasoning behind it.

After the naming of the island, 100 years passed before Danish and Canadian negotiators, about to draw a border at sea between Greenland and Canada, discovered that the island lies on exactly equidistant between Denmark and Canada.

The new deal may well be the end of Hans Island’s fame.

“That could certainly be one of the outcomes. In 20 years from now, perhaps nobody will be speaking about Hans Island anymore,” says Byers.

The new deal still needs to be ratified by the Danish parliament while a similar procedure takes place in Canada. Also, negotiations with the EU Commission are pending. As Greenland is part of the so-called Schengen Area in which Europeans can travel freely with principally no border control, the new border on Hans Island will also be considered an EU border towards Canada. It’s possible, though, that the EU Commission in Brussels may accept that no formal border control on Hans Island will be needed.

This story first appeared on June 13th 2022. 


Ny tv-serie åbner nye muligheder for grønlandske politikere

maj 3, 2022 • Af

Danske tv-seere er netop nu udsat for et aldrig tidligere set Grønlands-bombardement. For politikere og andre med noget på hjerte giver det nye muligheder.

Den ny DR-series to værter: Nukaka Coster-Waldau og Mads Mikkelsen.

Først kan vi spekulere over, om en tv-serie kan fortælle hele sandheden om, hvordan Grønland og Danmark har påvirket hinanden i de seneste 300 år? Nej, naturligvis ikke, og folkene bag DRs nye tv-serie “Historien om Grønland og Danmark,” der havde premiere på DR1 for nylig, understreger da også flittigt i disse dage, at serien blot er “et bud”. 

DRs egen fortælling om den ny tv-serie er med andre ord, at andre udmærket kan have lige så vigtige udlægninger af, hvordan historien har formet sig. 

Ved forpremieren, som fandt sted simultant i Nuuk og i København, sagde DRs repræsentanter, at DR ligefrem glæder sig til den debat og kritik, som serien ventes at skubbe i gang. Umiddelbart efter hvert af seriens afsnit inviterer DR selv til debat i en halv time på DR2.  

Ikke desto mindre er der al mulig grund til at tage den ny serie fra DR dybt alvorligt. 

Der findes ikke andre institutioner i kongeriget, der med samme kraft som DR kan levere budskaber til danskerne, som bliver hørt og som per definition, fordi de kommer fra DR, accepteres som troværdige og tæt på sandheden. 

Danske tv-seere har vænnet sig til at tro på DR. Derfor lyder det måske nok beskedent og ydmygt, når DR siger, at den ny serie blot er “ét bud,” men vi skal huske, at det er det mest magtfulde bud på historien, der vil blive produceret i meget lang tid. 

Den ny serie bygger på et kolossalt budget og er produceret af DRs dygtigste tilrettelæggere, fotografer og andre fagfolk. Serien er lækkert produceret og beriget med dygtigt udførte dramatiseringer (instrueret af filminstruktør Inuk Silis Høegh, der ifølge ham selv særligt har søgt at fremhæve grønlandske perspektiver). Med dramatiseringerne gøres historien levende af skuespillere, så vi ikke bare stimuleres intellektuelt af de medvirkende historikere og arkæologer, men også påvirkes følelsesmæssigt på et dybere plan.

 Den ny serie er ikke den fulde sandhed, men den vil påvirke hundredtusindvis af danske tv-seeres forståelse af den dansk-grønlandske historie, som ingen anden tv-serie før har gjort, og som ingen anden tv-serie vil gøre i mange, mange år frem.  

Borgen oveni

Læg dertil, at over en halv million danskere i de seneste måneder hver søndag aften har fulgt DRs fiktionsserie “Borgen”. Som mange vil vide, cirkler “Borgen” i alle otte afsnit om Danmarks og Grønland aktuelle, politiske relationer: Om dansk hovmod men også voksende indblik, om grønlandsk snilde, ambitioner og afmagt, om bloktilskuddet, råstofferne og stormagternes interesser. 

Om kort tid følger så, som det også fremgik af forpremieren på DRs ny serie i sidste uge, en times tv-dokumentar om kongehusets relationer til Grønland. )Mange husker sikkert også stadig den glade tv-serie på DR “Gennem Grønland” med Nikolaj og Nukaka Coster Waldau fra 2017 – mere end 600.000 seere så det første afsnit). 

Danske tv-seere er med andre ord netop nu udsat for et enestående, aldrig tidligere set Grønlands-bombardement. 

Hvis nogen i Grønland skulle have lyst til at bidrage til danskernes forståelse af Grønland – eksempelvis for at udvide det billede af historien, som den ny DRT-serie bringer –  er det derfor svært ved at forestille sig et bedre tidspunkt end netop nu. Det usædvanlige mediefokus har med stor sikkerhed skabt en akut nysgerrighed overfor Grønlands betydning for Danmark, for den komplekse historie og for, hvad folk i Grønland mon selv går rundt og tænker. 

Blandt politikere i Inatsisartut og andre i Grønland tales der ofte om den manglende dialog på tværs af Atlanten, om danskernes uvidenhed om Grønland, om danske mediers lemfældige dækning af Grønland. Tænk blot på Múte B. Egedes meget omtalte konflikt med TV2.

For dem, der har lyst til selv at gøre noget ved de problemer, er der også netop nu gyldne muligheder.  

For formanden for Inatsisartut, eller for Vivian Motzfeldt, ny Naalakkersuisoq for Udenrigsanliggender, eller for andre fra Grønland med noget på hjerte, vil det eksempelvis netop nu være nemmere end normalt at taletid og reel opmærksomhed i Danmark. TV-stationer, de store aviser, højskoler, foredragsforeninger m.v. vil være mere end glade for at åbne døre og spalter for grønlandske repræsentanter – og publikum har tv-serierne allerede varmet op. I juni afholdes det årlige Folkemøde på Bornholm, hvor over 20.000 danskere samles med toppolitikerne og andre meningsdannere for at diskutere politik – herunder arktisk politik og forhold af direkte relevans for Grønland. Jeg er ganske overbevist om, at Folkemødets ledelse med glæde vil byde ethvert medlem af Naalakkersuisut velkommen på hovedscenen. Grønlands politiske ledelse har aldrig tidligere optrådt på Folkemødet. 

I Danmark udnyttes interessen for Grønland flittigt. For nylig var organisationer og institutioner samlet på Christiansborg for at sikre mere undervisning om Grønland i Danmark – hidkaldt af ildsjælen Lisbeth Valgreen. Flere højskoler har haft udsolgt til ugelange kurser om Grønland. Kulturhuset Nordatlantens Brygge meldte udsolgt til en aften med de to grønlandske folketingsmedlemmer. Grønland er på hitlisten mange steder!     

    DRs nye serie fortjener al mulig opmærksomhed. Den udgør, som DR selv siger, blot ét bud på historien, og der er i disse dage enestående muligheder for at sikre opmærksomhed om andre bud og supplerende perspektiver.   

Martin Breum er journalist og har fungeret som rådgiver på to af afsnittene i “Historien om Grønland og Danmark.” Han producerer i øjeblikket en tv-dokumentar om kongehusets forhold til Grønland sammen med tv-dokumentaristen Jakob Gottschau. De to producerede i 2016 tv-serien “Rigsfællesskabets Historie” for DR. Martin Breums lydbog “Taamani Donald Trumpip Kalaallit Nunaat pisiarinialileraluallermagu” (“Da Trump ville købe Grønland”) er netop udkommet på grønlandsk, oversat og indtalt af Mariia Simonsen. Den er gratis tilgængelig på bibliotekernes “E-reolen”.

Teksten her er let revideret – teksten blev først bragt i Sermitsiaq i Grønland fredag 29. april 2022



As tension builds over Ukraine, Norway grows increasingly worried about neighboring Russia

februar 11, 2022 • Af
In January, the commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, Lieutenant General Yngve Odlo, arranged a Skype meeting with the commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, Admiral Aleksandr Moiseev, regarding an upcoming exercise Cold Response 22. in Norway (Preben Aursand / Norwegian Defense)

Before you begin to read this story, you may wish to look up the Russian naval base at Gadzhiyevo in Russia’s Arctic northwest on Google Earth.

This will help to illustrate why Norway is particularly worried about the current standoff with Russia over Ukraine and the prospect of a possible armed conflict there.

At Gadzhiyevo, and at the main naval base of Severomorsk — which are both very close to Norway — one can zoom in directly on the nuclear submarines and naval vessels of Russia’s Northern Fleet. They are blurry but visible like steely eels to anyone with a laptop.

The Northern Fleet is the largest and potentially most lethal hammer in Russia’s arsenal, its ultimate means of foreign policy pressure.

In the fjords on the coast of Russia’s Kola Peninsula just east of Russia’s Arctic border with Norway lies the core of the nuclear arsenal that Russia sees as its final instrument of nuclear deterrence or balance of power with the United States and its NATO allies.

Norway’s particular pain comes from an understanding that increased tension or actual conflict in Ukraine will sharpen Russia’s desire to protect this nuclear arsenal — and that this might lead to unwanted fallout in Norway.

The authorities in Oslo are understandably cautious not to create unnecessary public fear and apprehension in Norway — which might increase the effect of any further Russian moves to destabilize Norway’s resolve — but in January prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre aired his concerns in an interview with The Times in London.

The prime minister said that Russian-backed hackers were already targeting Norway’s government institutions; his government’s computer systems had been badly hurt by an outage.

“Cold winds blowing in the Arctic often spill over from other geopolitical conflicts. Today those cold winds are coming out of Ukraine,” he said. “I am very concerned about it. We now experience hybrid operations, sometimes aimed at companies and technological research, but also [at] key institutions such as the Storting.”

Norway’s parliament, Stortinget, was targeted by hackers in 2020 and 2021 while radio-jamming has hampered air traffic in the vicinity of Norway’s Arctic border to Russia several times.

Great power thinking

To understand the underlying currents, I called Tormod Heier, a lieutenant colonel who serves as a professor at the Norwegian Defense Command and Staff College and knows intimately the depth of Norway’s worries:

“Luckily, we are not at that point yet, but the Norwegian authorities fear that in the event of a war in Europe that involves a NATO country, Russia will move troops into northern Norway and onto (the Norwegian islands of) Svalbard, Bear Island and Jan Mayen because Russia will need greater strategic depth and room to shoot down U.S. missiles before they hit the base complexes on the Kola Peninsula or the government structures in Moscow,” Heier explains.

Tormod Heier speaks on NRK, Norway’s public broadcaster.

In anticipation, Norway has assumed a larger role in the military developments in the Arctic, and not surprisingly, Russia has made known its displeasure with the close military cooperation between the U.S. and Norway and with the growing number of U.S. military assets in Norway. From the Russian perspective, the enemy is moving far too close for comfort to its nuclear arsenals and to Moscow — precisely as Russia fears its adversaries will move closer to Russia in Ukraine, if Ukraine becomes a NATO country.

Modern U.S. missiles can reach Moscow in seven to 17 minutes, says Heier – whether from Ukraine or Norway:

“It is classic great power thinking. In a conflict situation you need room to move and act and that means that your counterpart must be kept as far away as possible. The U.S. would think in exactly the same way if Russian missiles were in place in Cuba or in Mexico,” he says.

Wrong path?

Heier has just published the very timely and lucid book: “En randstat på avveie? Norges vei inn i den nye kalde krigen 2014-2021” (”A Border-State on the Wrong Path? Norway’s Way Into the New Cold War” 2014-2021, only in Norwegian).

He explains to me why Oslo has been so eager to move personnel and military equipment closer to the border with Russia in recent years. Norway wants an alarm so fool-proof, that it simply cannot fail. Any Russian incursion onto Norwegian soil must be immediately followed by fighting so heavy and calamitous that no one in Washington or at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels will consider for a second not throwing themselves at Norway’s defense.

“What our authorities fear the most is a fait accompli where Russian soldiers are suddenly operating in northern Norway without causing any U.S. or NATO reaction,“ Heier says. In his book he calls this scenario “a conflict too big for Norway but too small for NATO.”  One can envision northern Norway violently transformed into some sort of Scandinavian Crimea: occupied by Russian troops and the subject of heated global protests, but without any military response from any western power.

Heier stresses that this is absolute worst case scenario — hopefully never to be realized. But something less dramatic may also hurt:

“We want to stand up and be counted right alongside the U.S. when it comes to the sovereignty of Ukraine and its right to choose its own alliances, but for Norway it is also important to avoid further tension with Russia,” he says.

“Norway does not want a militarization of our North, our strategically most important regions, where we haul in the enormous amounts of oil, gas and fish that make Norway one of the richest countries on Earth.”

Stronger defense

In his book Heier poses difficult questions about Norway’s ever more intensive partnership with the United States. It is not all parts of the U.S. military presence in Norway that are in Norway’s own national interest, he finds. In his book, he explains that when the U.S. military moves so close to Russia’s nuclear bases that it causes Russia to further boost its own military in the waters, skies and territories closest to Norway, it has no positive effects in Norway.

“Norway sees Russia as a difficult, but legitimate and necessary collaborative partner in the North, while the USA most of all sees a strategic competitor and rival,” he tells me.

His point is that while increased Russian jitters in the North, caused by U.S. maneuvers ever closer to Russia’s bases, may not cause any immediate trouble back in the U.S., Norway may experience plenty of unwanted Russian reactions.

Heier argues for a much stronger Norwegian defense that would enable Norway to operate more forcefully on its own in the regions closest to Russia, thus dampening U.S. wishes to do the patrolling with U.S. planes and vessels.

“If the U.S. and Russia continue to militarize the North, it will create greater risks of mistakes, misunderstandings and unwanted clashes. This could have very adverse consequences for Norway,” Heier says.

“Military leaders will gain more influence. Politicians will find it harder to maintain control. Mistrusts among the countries will grow, diplomatic channels close and the security margins disappear. That is what we fear: A conflict between the great powers escalating in the midst of our northern regions, because the crisis is not handled in our Norwegian, more cautious ways.”

Two-legged strategy

Meanwhile, Norway continues to increase its cooperation with the U.S.

Støre met recently with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington to talk Russia.

Norway’s strategy towards its Russian neighbor has rested for decades on two legs: A strong military capacity for immediate response to any Russian aggression but always coupled with never-ending, pragmatic dialogue and cooperation with Russia: Fish stock management, environmental protection, civilian exchanges, border-region collaboration and so forth.

Norway and Russia have been neighbors for an eternity and as Norway’s leaders have been keen to stress no wars have been fought between the two for more than a thousand years.

Also importantly in this context — and as any Norwegian will know — Russian soldiers have been in northern Norway before. At the close of World War II, when Norway — and its northern regions in particular — were bloodily occupied by forces from Nazi Germany, Soviet troops crossed Russia’s Arctic border into Norway and pushed the Germans out. The Soviet troops liberated northern Norway and soon after withdrew peacefully to positions on their own turf. Russia had no wish then, and has shown no intentions since, to violate Norway’s sovereignty.

Military build-up

As Heier points out in his book, however, a serious military build-up in Russia’s Arctic in recent years has coincided with an equally serious deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West —  and the military leg of Norway’s Russia-strategy has grown visibly longer than that of dialogue and pragmatism.

Norway collects intelligence on Russia with sophisticated equipment and financing from the U.S. In 2017, Norway received the first of 40 F-35 fighter planes bought in the U.S., planes that are suited to operate side-by-side with the U.S. Air Force. From 2017 to 2020, several thousand U.S. marines were rotated in and out of Norway on six-month training tours. In September 2020 ,U.S., British and Norwegian warships cruised along Norway’s northern coast and then crossed into Russia’s economic zone — right outside Severomorsk, the main base of Russia’s Northern Fleet. The ships remained in international waters, and therefore wasn’t a breach of international conventions, but it was still a signal as tall as Russia’s own snowiest peaks that the U.S. presence in these parts is expanding.

This year, Stortinget, the parliament in Oslo, is expected to ratify an arrangement with the U.S. which will allow U.S. forces unhindered access to build and station troops, fighter planes, ships and munitions at four Norwegian bases, two of which are in Norway’s Arctic.

Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Sam Rodriguez uses a shovel to clear snow from a frozen lake in Skjold, Norway as part of Exercise Cold Response 2020 on Feb. 21, 2020. (Mark Andrew Hays / U.S. Navy)

Come March this year, some 35,000 NATO troops, bolstered by the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman and the British carrier HMS Prince of Wales will take part in Cold Response 2022a bi-annual military exercise in Norway. Much of this will take place within easy shooting range of both Gadzhiyevo and Severomorsk. A spokesperson at the Norwegian Joint Operations Headquarters told High North News that “this will be the largest Norwegian-led exercise conducted in Norway since the 1980s.”

Listening for subs

Any Russian observer would add to this, of course, the several U.S. and Norwegian P-8 Poseidon planes that are particularly equipped to track and destroy the Russian nuclear submarines — the very cornerstone of the nuclear arsenal of the Northern Fleet.

U.S. Poseidon planes, until recently operating from an airstrip at Andøya, an island 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, have recently been paired with the first of five similar planes which Norway bought in the U.S.

These highly sophisticated planes may for instance be called into action by news from the sensor-rich cables that Norway’s defense forces operate on the seabed north of Norway as part of a 24-hour look-out for Russian submarine activity.

“Norway is an important listening- and warning-post for the U.S. We have sound profiles on basically all Russian submarines and we try to find out which crew are operating and when they plan to travel,” Heier says.

[A year into Biden’s presidency, U.S. military plans for Greenland remain unclear]

Russian submarines departing from Kola Peninsula bases must sail for about 20 hours in the relatively shallow waters of the Barents Sea parallel to Norway’s northern coastline before they can hide in the much deeper Atlantic Ocean. Thus, for many hours close to Norway the submarines are particularly vulnerable, and while the whole world is watching what happens in Ukraine, mobilization continues in the North.

On the last day of 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Northern Fleet had successfully test fired a number of the so-called Tsirkon missiles, the hypersonic missiles that are the latest and fastest ever in Russia’s command, and that this missile was now installed on both frigates and submarines of the Northern Fleet.

As I write this, the Northern Fleet is completing a highly visible exercise in the Barents Sea — even as other units of the Russian Navy do so in the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, the Pacific and the Sea of Okhotsk.


This article has been slightly modified from its first appearance on February 5th 2022. 



Faglig vurdering af “Grønland og den amerikanske forbindelse”

februar 3, 2022 • Af

Alle bibliotekter i kongeriget har nu modtaget en fag-vurdering – en såkaldt lektørudtalelse – af min bog “Grønland og den amerikanske forbindelse” fra Bibliotekscentralen (som i dag hedder DBC). Den er jeg rigtig glad og stolt over: “Journalist Martin Breum er en kapacitet på området Grønland og Arktis, og hans enorme viden gør bogen til et interessant og informativt indspark om en aktuel politisk situation. Velegnet som debatbog, ” står der så sandelig. Bogen udkom i efteråret 2021 først som lydbog og e-bog fra Gyldendal og dernæst som trykt bog fra mit eget forlag HAMACOM. Om nogle uger udkommer bogen som lydbog på grønlandsk, oversat og indtalt af Mariia Simonsen. Tryk her, hvis du vil købe dit eget eksemplar. Jeg tillader mig at bringe hele lektørudtalelsen her:


Grønland og den amerikanske forbindelse : om købstilbud, løsrivelse og kongerigets skæbne
Forfatter: Martin Breum
Kort om bogen

Kom med bag om den amerikanske interesse for Grønland, som
trækker tråde både til fortid og fremtid. For læsere med
interesse for Grønland og storpolitik


I 2019 meddeler den amerikanske præsident Donald Trump, at
han gerne vil købe Grønland. I Danmark vækker udsagnet
primært vrede, men i Grønland er der en del, heriblandt den
unge politiker Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam, der ser tilbuddet som
en mulighed for at skabe en uafhængig stat. Det er hun ikke
alene om. Trumps købstilbud repræsenterede en amerikansk
interesse, der nu vokser videre hos Joe Biden, og som i Grønland
skaber en ny tro på fremtiden. Martin Breum diskuterer åbent
spørgsmål om, hvad USA’s egentlige mål er i Grønland? Hvordan
bør den danske regering og Grønlands ledere forholde sig, og
hvorfor reagerer danskere og grønlændere så forskelligt?
Forfatteren er en af Danmarks førende iagttagere af udviklingen i
Arktis og i rigsfællesskabet mellem Danmark, Grønland og
Færøerne. Han har skrevet flere bøger og i 2016 producerede
han sammen med Jakob Gottschau tv-dokumentarserien
“Rigsfællesskabets historie” til DR


Journalist Martin Breum er en kapacitet på området Grønland og
Arktis, og hans enorme viden gør bogen til et interessant og
informativt indspark om en aktuel politisk situation. Velegnet
som debatbog

Andre bøger om samme emne

Det er oplagt at henvise til forfatterens øvrige værker: Hvis
Grønland river sig løs og Balladen om Grønland

Til bibliotekaren


Materialet er vurderet af: Pernille Poulsen

Sprog: Dansk
1. udgave, 1. oplag (2021)
Hamacom (2021)
ISBN: 9788797343807
Faustnummer: 61636145
188 sider
Opstilling: 46.79


A year into Biden’s presidency, U.S. military plans for Greenland remain unclear

januar 19, 2022 • Af
A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet fighter, RCAF CH-19 Cormorant long range search-and-rescue helicopter, and a United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker air-to-air refueler are seen positioned on the ramp at Thule Air Base in Greenland on June 11, 2021, ready for Exercise Amalgam DART 21-1. (3 Wing Imaging)


Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion in 2019 that he wanted to buy Greenland signaled an intense strategic U.S. interest in the island, an autonomous country in the Danish realm. But, now, a year into his successor Joe Biden’s tenure, it is still not clear what Washington really wants in Greenland.

The latest news in that regard reached the public only indirectly in late 2021. It was in Danish and woven into an answer from the Danish minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeppe Kofod, to a member of the Danish parliament who had asked what the Danish government knew of any U.S. plans for an upgrade of Thule Air Base in the far north of Greenland.

The reason for this exchange was an article I had written a few days earlier in Weekendavisen, a Danish broadsheet, highlighting how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in November 2020 — still in the Trump era — launched a market survey to identify private engineering companies interested in providing architectural and engineering services for a seemingly rather large upgrade to Thule Air Base.

It was a non-binding market survey, not a formal tender, but it mentioned a sum that must have had people in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere reaching for their phones. The public announcement of the market survey explained that the plan was to award five-year contracts to five companies to the total tune of $250 million — a quarter of a billion dollars just for architectural and engineering services. The object here was obviously not any small time upkeep of existing facilities at Thule.

There was no indication as to how large the budget for the actual construction at Thule Air Base would be, but there was a neat list of what would most likely be needed — and please allow now a somewhat lengthy quote:

“Construction of new and renovation/upgrade of multiple hangar/buildings, maintenance, training facilities (hands-on/simulators), Aviation facilities, Runways and Taxiways, Aircraft Fueling facilities/distribution, Industrial facilities, Vehicle Maintenance facilities, Research & design facilities (Armament, Munitions and Communications), Munitions and Storage facilities, Dining facilities, Academic Labs, Barracks/dormitories, Academic Facilities, Administrative Office Buildings. Arctic/Cold Region Construction and repair of airfields, runways, taxiways, aprons and Apron refueling systems. Whole building renovations which address interior re-configuration, life/safety, energy conservation, and utility systems.”

The list went on and on:

“Fire suppression and water supply systems, fire alarm and mass notification system, cybersecurity, fire detection/protection/monitoring and controls, heating and ventilation systems, plumbing systems, electrical systems, telecommunication and cabling systems, closed circuit television (CCTV), alarm and card access systems, and public address systems”.

“Topographic surveys, geological surveys, geotechnical investigations, environmental investigations, Master Planning Studies, Value Engineering Studies, Field Investigation Studies, construction support services”.

Even the caretaking of historical buildings at Thule Air Base was mentioned.


A year later, well into Biden’s presidency, when I asked if there was any news as to when all this would happen in Greenland, the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen had no comment. Only when the Danish minister of Foreign Affairs had to answer in writing a question from Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, one of the two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, who was surprised that neither she nor her government in Nuuk had heard anything, did a message from Washington seep through.

“The U.S. authorities have informed (the Danish government) that the market survey has not till now resulted in any concrete tenders, and that it has therefore not led to any construction at the base. Neither is there on the American side any expectation that this will likely happen in the near future,” the answer from the Danish foreign minister read (this translation is mine).

Thule Air Base was established by the US army in the very north of Greenland in the 1950’s. The goal was to bring US military aircrafts as close to the Soviet Union as possible. The base covers a total area of some 620 square kilometers.

That was all. And I assume that the most likely interpretation by those who live in Greenland and by many others who follow U.S. military activity in the Arctic with mounting interest would read something like this: In 2020, the US Corps of Engineers had very serious thoughts about upgrading Thule Air Base, but now — well into the Biden days — these thoughts are no longer current and there is no immediate political desire to pursue them.

It seemed to be a straight and precise message. But it ran, as I will try to explain, somewhat contrary to a string of other U.S. actions in Greenland and in the rest of the Arctic.

Crucial relations

I should add first, though, that the question of U.S. military activity in Greenland is of course of immense interest first of all to the 57,000 inhabitants in Greenland but also to the rest of the Danish Kingdom of which Greenland is still a part. The ways in which the U.S. decides to pursue its strategic interests in Greenland will impact, for instance, directly on Greenland’s and Denmark’s standing with regard to other countries — Russia in particular, at a time when tension with Russian already at a peak. It will impact Greenland’s economy, its infrastructure, and — especially if more U.S. soldiers are to be stationed in Greenland, even temporarily — the social fabric of Greenland.

In Copenhagen, relations with the U.S. are considered crucial to basically all Danish security and many foreign policy issues. Denmark’s government considers the permanent maintenance of a close military alliance with the U.S. to be at the very core of its responsibilities.

As an example, in December, the head of the Danish Defense Intelligence was put under arrest allegedly accused of leaking information to the press. His arrest followed revelations by the media that — among other related issues — the security service had long cooperated much more deeply with those of the U.S. than most Danes had ever anticipated. The connection to Thule Air Base, I admit, is slight, but I mention this illustrate how the advancement of U.S. military ambitions in any part of the Danish Kingdom will play more or less directly into many other strands of politics, including intelligence issues, military budgets, the question of how to calibrate the Danish defense forces in Greenland and the delicate issue of how to handle internal differences between Denmark and Greenland (as well as the Faroe Islands, the third part of the kingdom).

The U.S. wants, for instance, increased “situational awareness” in the Arctic and Denmark has promised to finance and build a large, new radar in the Faroe Islands. The local politicians in Torshavn, the Faroese capital, however, have shown little enthusiasm for this increase in the military infrastructure on their islands. And Pele Broberg, Greenland’s foreign minister until recently, talked openly of his desire to limit Denmark’s military presence in Greenland while strengthening ties to the U.S.

Meanwhile, it is not forgotten how Trump’s idea to buy Greenland seemed to reflect a firm and steadfast U.S. wish to counter Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic and China’s economic and diplomatic inroads in the region. Both are clearly considered to be real and current threats to the U.S., — thus positioning the Faroe Islands and Greenland smack in the center of U.S. strategic concerns.

The recent message from Biden’s Washington that there are no current plans to upgrade Thule Air Base therefore leaves a more basic question still baying for answers: What then does the U.S. military plan in Greenland?

If the Trump administration — including its foreign service and the Pentagon — was so eager to embrace Greenland, reopening the U.S. consulate in Nuuk, investing for the first time ever in Greenland’s civil society and sending frequent signals about about Greenland’s strategic importance, what then are the Biden-administration’s plans for follow-ups?

Mapping Greenland

While we wait, a string of related U.S. actions in Greenland and the rest of the Arctic are keeping observers in both Nuuk and Copenhagen on their toes.

The first recent signal of U.S. intent to invest in additional aviation facilities in Greenland was advertised through the U.S. Embassy in Denmark in 2018.

Since then, high ranking U.S. officials have repeatedly expanded on this theme. According to my sources both in Greenland and Denmark, this has included briefings by U.S. officials in the secret so-called Permanent Committee, where high-ranking U.S., Danish and Greenlandic officials exchange views and information on U.S. military matters in Greenland.

Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from right) in Greenland last summer – with Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod (far left), Greenland’s premier Mute B. Egede and climate researcher Mie Winding. Photo: Leiff Josefsen, Sermitsiaq

Also, a team of technical experts from the U.S. defense forces have been to Greenland to assess whether two new civilian airports under construction in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, and in Ilulissat, a town further north, could potentially be useful for the U.S. Air Force. Others have speculated that a deepwater port in Greenland will soon be among U.S. naval priorities.

According to other sources in Denmark and Greenland, including military sources, U.S. satellites under the auspices of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Springfield, Virginia, one of the arms of the U.S. intelligence community,  have lately been steadily collecting data about every inch of Greenland not covered by ice; this is territory the size of Norway or two-thirds the size of Afghanistan. In an effort that also involves the Danish and Greenlandic authorities, this immense amount of data will be turned into electronic, seamless maps (think Google Maps, just better). These maps will enable smoother and safer operations by U.S. and other military forces in Greenland and, as an extra bonus, also indirectly benefit the making of maps for Greenland’s civilian life.

The runways at Thule Air Base have recently been equipped with extra so-called tail-hooks; wires fastened to concrete structures which can help fighter planes brake more rapidly when landing. Long-planned demolition of older structures at the base have been canceled and among Danish military brass, rumors of upcoming larger-scale upgrades have been circulating for some time.

In 2020 and in 2021 — bridging the Trump and the Biden presidencies — the U.S. and the Canadian air forces conducted two major exercises in the Arctic dubbed Amalgam Dart. According to Skies Magazine, the exercise in June 2021 involved more than a thousand troops, 60 fighter jets and other aircraft and Thule Air Base played a key role.

“The exercise went very well and provided an excellent opportunity for our Airmen to work in a deployed location to refine Agile Combat Employment processes for maturing the C-17 capability for future wet-wing defueling missions,” said Chuck Keasey, CONR-First Air Force Aircraft Maintenance Branch Chief. “Our proven ability to conduct wet-wing refueling enhances our capability to defend North America,” he said.

In 2021, the US defense forces were granted unhindred access to four military installations in Norway; underscoring the importance of access to the Arctic close to Russia’s large bases west of Murmansk on the Kola peninsula  / Graphics: Business-Insider

In another illustration of increased U.S. focus on the Arctic, the U.S. last year in a deal with the Norwegian government was awarded “unhindered access” to four military installations in Norway, two of which are in the Norwegian Arctic. From there, U.S. fighter planes, military vessels and submarines now conduct maneuvers in the North Atlantic ever closer to Russia’s main Arctic bases. And in a few weeks, the mighty USS Harry Truman, an aircraft carrier, will team up with HMS Prince of Wales, a British equivalent, for one of the largest military exercises ever in the Arctic parts in Norway; military cooperation with Sweden and Finland are also on the rise.

Several of the most recent Arctic strategies from various branches of the U.S. military talk about new and growing threats to the U.S. from the north, and Thule Air Base — even if some structures there date all the way back to the 1950s — is listed as a key U.S. asset in this regard.

As associate professor Rob Huebert, an Arctic security expert from the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, told me in December:

“An upgrade to Thule Air Base would basically mean that the U.S. was investing precisely as they have written in their strategies that they would over the last couple of years. It would fit nicely into the pattern that has already been drawn by the U.S. in northern Norway and at the U.S.’s own military facilities in Alaska,“ Huebert said.

“It is a simple analysis. You have a shorter reaction time today than previously,” in case of a Russian attack, he said. ”And the Americans think they need to do something about it.”

Strategic minerals

To sum up, there are no signs that U.S. interests in Greenland are diminishing. Quite the contrary. When Trump announced his wish to buy Greenland, he talked of the strategic minerals in Greenland’s subsoil, and this particular priority seems to also still have Washngton’s keen interest; the U.S. is also keen to thwart any risk that China might gain control over Greenland’s resources.

As an example, on December 7 the Australian mining company Ironbark happily announced that the U.S. investment bank EXIM, the Export-Import Bank of the United States’ government, had formally confirmed its interest in investing some $657 million in a huge zinc mine at Citronen Fjord in a remote part of extreme northeastern Greenland which Ironbark has worked on for years.

Zinc is on the U.S. list of strategic minerals; in increasingly short demand while still crucial for, among other things, galvanizing iron. According to Ironbark’s announcement, EXIM’s investment would basically finance the entire mine in Citronen Fjord. Also, it would effectively kill Ironbark’s previous intention to let the Chinese state-controlled mining giant China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group finance the project.

According to the Financial Review EXIM’s financing is a result of a U.S. government lender’s special “402A program” designed to help companies compete with China. Australia’s former foreign minister Alexander Downer, one of Ironbark Zinc’s directors, told Financial Review that: “the 402 program was set up, in a sense, as a way of competing with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.”

The site of the Ironbark Zinc’s Citronen project is accessible by sea for 12 weeks a year. (Ironbark Zinc)

“It has strategic intention, and it has been legislated by Congress and then implemented by regulation by the EXIM Bank. And we’re the first standalone project to get approval as a 402A project,” Downer said.

Next in line may be Greenland’s large deposits of minerals from the so-called rare earths, which are of particular significance to the U.S. arms industry.

In July 2019, only a few weeks prior to his admission that he would like to buy Greenland because it would be “strategically nice,” Trump issued a presidential memorandum to his Defense Secretary explaining that domestic production of rare earth minerals was no longer sufficient to secure U.S. supplies, and that foreign sources would have to be pursued.

That same summer, Greg Barnes, an Australian miner with a license to mine rare earths in south Greenland, was summoned, as he told me in 2021, to the White House with short notice and questioned for several hours by a panel of more than 10 people from the president’s staff and the U.S. intelligence community on how he intended to proceed.

Later the same year, an airborne survey of mineral resources in south Greenland was carried out with U.S. funding. And according to sources in Nuuk, a delegation of high-ranking officials from the U.S. State Department that visited Greenland in late 2019 and included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s chief adviser, Thomas Breckbull, was especially preoccupied with Greenland’s rare earths.

Biden’s administration has not yet exercised the same zeal on the ground in Greenland, but it is obviously aware of the pressure to secure ample supplies of rare earth minerals for the U.S. And Greenland just happens to be home to sizable, proven deposits.

In February 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense announced an investment of some $30 million in a rare earth refinery in Texas. In June 2021 the Biden administration established a “Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force” to combat a range of potential shortfalls, including that of rare earths: “China accounts for an outsized share of the world’s refining capacity, meaning that even if the United States were to diversify our sources of critical minerals or increase domestic extraction, we would still be reliant on China for processing before use in end-product manufacturing,” a fact sheet from the White House said, heralding much action and investment. A White House background report was equally adamant: “The United States must secure reliable and sustainable supplies of critical minerals and metals to ensure resilience across U.S. manufacturing and defense needs” it said. In December 2021, Biden issued his own presidential memorandum focused, like Trump’s, singularly on rare earths:

“Shortfalls”, Biden wrote, “would severely impair national defense capability.”

Again, Greenland’s rare earth deposits are most likely still blinking visibly on the radar of the planners and strategists in Washington. However, like in the military sphere, it might be that at this point in time nobody in the new administration has yet figured out exactly how to proceed.


This article first appeared on on January 19. 2022. It has been slightly edited for this homepage. 




Skal Thule-basen opgraderes?

januar 14, 2022 • Af

Den følgende artikel stod først at læse i Weekendavisen i november 2021, herefter på nyhedssitet High North News i Norge. Nogle dage efter blev udenrigsminister Jeppe Kofod spurgt i Folketinget, hvad regeringen vidste om USAs planer for opgradering af Thule Air Base. Jeppe Kofods svar, der forelå på skrift den 14. december 2021, lød som følger:

Regeringen og Naalakkersuisut bliver løbende holdt orienteret af amerikanske myndigheder om aktiviteter på Pituffik/Thulebasen,
herunder i regi af det såkaldte Permanente Udvalg. Udenrigsministeriet og Naalakkersuisut er bekendt med den i artiklen omtalte markedsanalyse. De amerikanske myndigheder har oplyst, at markedsanalysen for indeværende
ikke har resulteret i konkrete udbud, og har således ikke afstedkommet bygge- eller anlægsaktiviteter på basen. Fra amerikansk side, forventes det heller ikke at være nært forestående


Og her kommer så min artikel, sådan som den lød i Weekendavisen og – på norsk – på High North News:


Der var en grund til, at Donald Trump ville købe Grønland. Polarisens forsvinden og Ruslands oprustning i Arktis har gjort Grønland uomgængelig for USAs egen militære sikkerhed, og en række signaler tyder på, at handlingens fase nu nærmer sig.

Thule Air Base blev bygget i 1950’erne og er løbende blevet opgraderet – omend en del bygninger stadig er fra 1950’erne

Det amerikanske forsvar vil ifølge flere kilder inden for kort tid iværksætte en omfattende opgradering af Thule Air Base — måske den største, siden basens oprindelse i 1950’erne. 

Opgraderingen er ikke formelt bekræftet af de amerikanske myndigheder, der er endnu ikke tale om stikfaste beviser, men det amerikanske forsvars voksende aktivitet i Thule, den forstærkede brug af norske baser plus vedholdende forlydender i den danske byggebranche og i det danske forsvar tegner et påfaldende mønster.

De amerikanske ingeniørtropper, the US Corps of Engineers, efterlyste allerede i september 2020 rådgivende ingeniører, der vil påtage at styre en opgradering af basen. Budgettet alene til rådgivningen lød på 250.000.000 USD eller cirka 1,6 milliarder kroner, og kilder i branchen regner nu med, at et reelt udbud vil blive offentliggjort måske allerede i december eller i første halvdel af 2022.

Topfolk i det danske forsvar taler om, at basen formentlig skal klargøres, så den til enhver tid kan modtage, bevæbne og servicere et større antal – måske helt op til “et trecifret antal” – bombefly, tankfly m.v. plus hundreder, måske flere tusinde supporterende tropper i tilfælde af øget spænding eller egentlig militær konfrontation med Rusland i Arktis.

Amerikanernes genopblussede interesse for Thulebasen er i det hele taget velkendt i forsvaret. Det amerikanske luftvåben gennemførte under kodenavnet Amalgam Dart i august 2020 og i maj i år sammen Canadas luftvåben store øvelser med jagerfly og lufttankning i Arktis, hvor Thulebasen spillede en hovedrolle. 

Et dansk entreprenørselskab har bygget nye bremse-anlæg til jagerfly på basen – såkaldte tail-hooks, der blandt andet skal forhindre jagerfly i glide, hvis landingsbanerne er isglatte, og de danske myndigheder er blevet orienteret om, at en ellers nøje planlagt skrotning af basens ældste hangarer og barakker, hvoraf flere er fra 1950’erne, nu er aflyst.


Thule Air Base, der dækker et område på mere end 600 kvadratkilomter. Kun en mindre del er bebygget – her er hangarer, runways, værksteder, hospital m.v. Basen drives af det amerikanske luftvåben længst mod nord i Vestgrønland

En af Canadas mest garvede iagttagere af den militære udvikling i Arktis, professor Rob Huebert fra Department of Political Science ved University of Calgary, mener, at USA er ved at opbygge militær kapacitet i Arktis, der skal kunne knuse Ruslands evne til at affyre sine nye, ekstremt hurtige og manøvredygtige såkaldte hypersoniske missiler fra fly, skibe eller landanlæg i Arktis. 

“En opgradering af Thulebasen vil passe fint ind i det mønster, der allerede tegnes af det amerikanske forsvar i Nordnorge og på USAs egne anlæg i Alaska“ siger Huebert til Weekendavisen.

“Det er en simpel analyse. Man har simpelthen kortere reaktionstid i dag, end tidligere, og amerikanerne mener, at de må gøre noget ved det. En opgradering af Thule Air Base vil reelt bare sige, at amerikanerne investerer præcis, som de har skrevet i deres strategier over de sidste par år, at de vil gøre,” siger han.

  De amerikanske strateger har hidtil satset på varsler fra Thule om missiler, der affyres fra Rusland, før missilerne nåede USA; en stor radar vendt mod nord har i de seneste årtier udgjort den afgørende komponent på basen. Radarvarslerne skulle sikre, at den amerikanske befolkning blev advaret i tilfælde af missilangreb, og at det amerikanske forsvar kunne nå at gøre, hvad der var muligt, for at afværge et angreb – uanset, om det gjaldt missiler affyret fra Rusland eller russiske fly på vej mod USA. I dag anses denne form for varsling ikke længere for tilstrækkelig. 

Ruslands nye Nagurskoye-luftbase på øgruppen Franz Josef Land kun 900 km fra Nordpolen ligger så tæt på Thulebasen og det amerikanske fastland, at det for alvor foruroliger strategerne, og der er mange andre nye russiske anlæg, fly og skibe i Arktis, hvorfra både de nye hypersoniske og mindre sofistikerede missiler kan affyres. 

Det amerikanske modsvar er ifølge Rob Huebert, at alt, hvad der er til rådighed af baser for amerikanerne i Arktis, nu klargøres, så amerikanske jagerfly, bombefly og fly til lufttankning kan hidkaldes, hvis krisen indtræffer. På baserne kan flyene gøres klar til at destruere selve de anlæg, hvorfra Ruslands nye missiler kan affyres – russiske bombefly, skibe, ubåde og landanlæg. I fredstid holdes baserne i permanent klar-tilstand med fyldte brændstofdepoter, ammunition, reservedele, sneryddede landingsbaner, dåsemad på lageret o.s.v., men uden den skarpslebne krisebesætning. 


Politisk spiselig


Chefen for Forsvarsakademiets Center for Luftoperationer, major Karsten Marrup er stort set enig med Rob Huebert: 

“Det handler om at dominere luftrummet, og det betyder, at man også beskytter sig mod de platforme, der kan affyre missilerne. Og det er ikke kun de hypersoniske missiler, der bekymrer USA. Rusland har mange andre langtrækkende våbensystemer i Arktis,” siger han. Han sender et uddrag af US Air Force’s nye arktiske strategi fra 2020, hvor det fremgår, at flyvevåbnet vil sikre, at Thulebasen “matcher fremtidens operationelle behov”. 

Karsten Marrup understreger, at han ingen konkrete oplysninger har om en forestående opgradering. Han forestiller sig dog ligesom Rob Huebert, at de amerikanske strateger vil foretrække en model, hvor Thulebasen klargøres til modtagelse af fly og personnel, mens den daglige bemanding næppe vil vokse væsentligt, selvom russernes baser i nord er mere permanent bemandet. En sådan løsning vil spare penge og gøre opgraderingen i Thule politisk mere spiselig også  for den danske regering og for Naalakkersuisut, Grønlands landsstyre. Begge fastholder gerne, at Arktis også i fremtiden bør være et lavspændingsområde. 

Thulebasen huser i dag ingen faste fly og kun ca. 250 amerikanske tropper. En opgradering med henblik på deployering af et større antal fly, militære mekanikere og ammunitionseksperter vil uvægerligt skabe politisk opmærksomhed især blandt dem, der allerede ser et sikkerhedsdilemma i Arktis: USA opruster, fordi Rusland gør det og vica versa, og for hver tur i karrusellen vokser risikoen for fejl og utilsigtede, fatale sammenstød.

USA’s oprustning i Arktis har stået på i nogen tid. En massiv flådeøvelse i Nordatlanten, Trident Juncture, bragte i 2018 amerikanske flådefartøjer tættere på de russiske atombaser vest for Murmansk end på noget andet tidspunkt siden den kolde krig, og tidligere i år indgik Washington en aftale med Norge, der sikrer USAs forsvar uhindret adgang til fire norske militæranlæg, herunder en luftbase ved Evenes ved Lofoten og en marinebase tæt på Narvik. Amerikanske kampfly, flådeskibe og ubåde gennemfører nu øvelsesmissioner fra Nordnorge og videre op mod Ruslands mest sensitive atombaser og missildepoter på Kola-halvøen.


Seks milliarder


Vi ved ikke præcis, hvornår en opgradering i Thule vil ske eller præcis, hvad den vil indebære. Iagttagerne fra de danske virksomheder, der håber på lukrative kontrakter, bygger deres forventninger alene på oplysninger fra partnere i Nordamerika og på opslaget fra de amerikanske ingeniørtropper fra 2020. Det syv siders tekniske opslag viste, at USA sigter på opgradering eller nyopførsel på den 625 kvadratkilometer store base af “adskillige hangarer og bygninger, træningsfaciliteter, landingsbaner, brændstofsanlæg, ammunitionsdepoter, spisehaller, barakker, kontorer, laboratorier”, og at alt selvsagt skal sikres mod snemasserne, stormene og den dybe frost og i øvrigt forsynes med brandsikring, cybersecurity, intern tv-kommunikation m.v.

Budgettet alene for de rådgivende ingeniører lød som nævnt på cirka 1,6 milliarder kroner, der skal strækkes over fem år, og fagfolkene gætter på et samlet anlægsbudget på mellem fem og ti milliarder. Flere af de danske selskaber indgår i konsortier med selskaber i USA eller Canada, der nøje overvåger ethvert signal fra de amerikanske ingeniørtropper, og opfattelsen er som nævnt nu, at et udbud til rådgiverne vil blive offentliggjort inden længe. 

Den danske regering og Naalakkersuisut, Grønlands landsstyre, har ifølge Weekendavisens kilder i nogen tid været orienteret om USA’s generelle ønske om at modernisere Thule-basen, men ikke om konkrete byggeplaner, og USAs ambassade i København har ikke ønsket at kommentere Weekendavisens oplysninger. Flere Arktis-kyndige advarer mod overfortolkning af de foreløbige budgettal, fordi byggeri i Arktis altid er dyrt. Selv fem-ti milliarder kroner betyder ikke nødvendigvis, at Thulebasen kan opgraderes hurtigt eller massivt, siger de.


Grønlandsk gevinst


Grønland står i alle tilfælde til gevinst. Allerede i Trump-administrationens dage blev det besluttet, at kontrakter på den civile servicering af Thulebasen igen fra 2024 kun kan tildeles selskaber, der betaler skat i Grønland, og det amerikanske luftvåben offentliggjorde 5. oktober i år et udkast til den såkaldte service-kontrakt, der skal gælde fra ultimo 2023.

Kontrakten gælder vedligehold af basens fysiske anlæg plus hospital- og  brandvæsen, snerydning, vandforsyning, mad, rengøring osv. Den gælder ligesom de forventede kontrakter til den fysiske opgradering i milliardklassen, og Grønland kan regne med store indtægter fra skatter og andre goder, der endda vil vokse i takt med enhver opgradering. Det sikrer dog ikke nødvendigvis applaus: 

“En stor opgradering kan være i modstrid med Naalakkersuisuts ønske om lavspænding i Arktis,” siger formanden for det danske Folketings Grønlandsudvalg, Aaja Chemnitz-Larsen fra det grønlandske regeringsparti IA. 

“Jeg har godt hørt om et udbud. Man skal være naiv, hvis man ikke forventer en opgradering af basen, men det må i det mindste ske i samarbejde med os, og vi er ikke blevet orienteret,” siger hun. 


Nationalismen i Grønland skærpes med Aleqa Hammonds comeback

november 8, 2021 • Af

Aleqa Hammond meddelte søndag 24. oktober på Facebook, at Siumuts ledelse har opfordret hende til igen at melde sig ind i partiet, og at hun har takket ja. Formanden for Siumut, Erik Jensen, bekræftede forløbet, da jeg ringede til ham i Nuuk. Det var ikke Aleqa Hammond, der bad om mulighed for et comeback. Det var Erik Jensen selv, der opfordrede en af Grønlands mest skarptungede og insisterende fortalere for løsrivelse fra Danmark til at melde sig ind i Siumut igen.

Politisk splittet

Erik Jensens parti er i øjeblikket i opposition, og det er uvant og ikke nemt. Siumut har regeret i Grønland i alle årene minus fem siden Hjemmestyrets indførelse i 1979. Desuden har Siumut siden et valg i Grønland i april døjet med en række kedelige personsager, og samtidig taler kritikerne om et parti, der stadig er politisk splittet efter et overrumplende formandsopgør i 2020. Her blev formanden, den mere pragmatiske Kim Kielsen med en snæver margin skiftet ud. Hans evne til forlig med København reddede ham ikke. Kielsens indgik markante aftaler med Lars Løkke Rasmussen, ikke mindst om et stort dansk kapitalindskud i de nye lufthavne i Grønland, og hans tætte kontakt og venskab med Mette Frederiksen blev essentiel, da Donald Trump ville købe Grønland.

Sidst i 2020 blev Kielsen skiftet ud, og samtidig blev hovedparten af Siumuts hovedbestyrelse erstattet med nye ansigter, hvoraf flere, herunder partiets nuværende folketingsmedlem Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam, advokerer ivrigt for omkalfatring af rigsfællesskabet.

Opgøret har ikke været gratis: Den detroniserede Kim Kielsen har taget orlov; en anerkendt Siumut-borgmester i Nordgrønland har efter årtiers tro tjeneste meldt sig ud af partiet i protest. Samtidig har Erik Jensen, lidt som Venstres Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, døjet med at projicere et politisk projekt, og han mangler ifølge flere iagttagere i Nuuk endnu at manifestere sig som samlende lederprofil.

Opgør på national-fløjen

Endelig gør det ondt på Siumut, at et af de to regerende koalitionspartier, Naleraq, siden magtskiftet i april har fået fremstillet sig selv som betydeligt mere kompromisløst og grænsesøgende end Siumut, når det gælder opgøret med Danmark. Især har partiets oratoriske spydspids Pele Broberg løftet anslagene til nye højder; så højt at han til sidst i Berlingske antydede, at det måske kun burde være borgere med inuit-baggrund, der fik lov at stemme ved en eventuel afstemning om løsrivelse.

Etnisk forskelsbehandling er også i Grønland langt over den røde streg; Broberg mistede sin post som Naalakkersuisoq, landsstyremedlem for udenrigsanliggender, men han er stadig medlem af landsstyret med ansvar for Grønlands handel og erhverv. Flere iagttagere i Nuuk gætter formentlig med rette, at det især er for at dæmme op for Pele Brobergs og hans partis indhug i Grønlands mere nationalistiske vælgere, at Aleqa Hammond nu igen indrulleres i Siumut som kuglestøbende kraftværk. Siumut-toppens tænkning rækker muligvis også udover næste valg: Løsrivelsesprojektet lider under det tonstunge dilemma, at bloktilskuddet fra Danmark stadig dækker godt 50 procent af de offentlige udgifter i Grønland.

Erik Jensen har lovet, at Siumut vil fremskynde hjemtagelse af mere ansvar fra Danmark, hvis hans parti igen vinder regeringsmagten, men pengene mangler. I vælgernes øjne kan stilstanden hurtig blive betænkelig, og nye ideer og Aleqa Hammonds velkendte stridslyst kan derfor også til den tid vise sig nyttige.

Uden tøven

Erik Jensen i Nuuk og en del aktører på Christiansborg og på Slotsholmen vil huske, hvordan Aleqa Hammond som landsstyreformand flere gange uden tøven stødte frontalt sammen med Helle Thorning-Schmidts regering.

Hun argumenterede for “selvstændighed i min levetid” på et tidspunkt, hvor kun få grønlandske politikere så behov for en tidsramme om selvstændighedsprojektet. Hun åbnede for uranudvinding i Grønland i lodret strid med Helle Thornings-Schmidts og udenrigsminister Villy Søvndals gentagne men forgæves bønner og krav.

Det kostede embedsværket tre års hårdt arbejde bag kulisserne af finde et brugbart kompromis. Aleqa Hammond krævede også at blive hørt i udenrigspolitiske anliggender, der blot i det mindste vedkom Grønland; det var lang tid før den slags inddragelse af Grønlands ledere blev normen i København.

Hvad med skandalerne?

Erik Jensen siger, at han henter Aleqa Hammond tilbage i folden “for at give partiet et boost” – ingen i Nuuk har glemt, at Aleqa Hammond i 2013 høstede intet mindre end 6818 personlige stemmer ved det valg i Grønland, der bragte hende helt til tops. Det kan lyde af lidt i Danmark, men i Grønland var det et historisk resultat: Så mange stemmer har ingen anden grønlandsk politiker været i nærheden af hverken før eller siden.

Det betyder selvsagt ikke, at Hammond nødvendigvis nu kan returnere til fordums glans; det vil hun muligvis aldrig kunne. Ved valget i Grønland i april i år fik hun kun 271 personlige stemmer; det rakte end ikke til en plads i Inatsisartut, parlamentet i Nuuk. Som det fremgår af de grønlandske medier i disse dage, husker mange stadig med gru de bastante fadæser, der bragte hende til fald.

Ydmyg afstand til toppen

Men med Erik Jensens omfavnelse og genindmeldelsen i Siumut er hun nu igen frit stillet til sigte mod tillidsposter internt i sit gamle parti, opstilling ved kommunalvalg og valg til Inatsisartut, og bliver hun opstillet, vil hun vel at mærke igen kunne trække på partiets veltestede kampagnemaskine. Uden den kan det være uhyre tungt og dyrt at føre valgkamp i den vidtstrakte, tyndt befolkede nation. Det er altså ikke længere utænkeligt – omend i den spekulative ende – at Aleqa Hammond igen vil ende som kandidat til topposter internt i Siumut såvel som i Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsstyre.

Siumut tabte regeringsmagten ved valget i april, men partiets høstede isoleret set flere stemmer end ved forrige valg; altså ikke noget egentligt katastrofalt resultat. Og der er ingen tegn på, at Aleqa Hammonds egne politiske ambitioner har lidt overlast af den tid, hun har tilbragt på mere ydmyg afstand af toppen.

Misbrug af offentlige midler

På Facebook og i kommentarsporer på Grønlands webmedier har Aleqa Hammonds genindmeldelse i Siumut som nævnt afstedkommet en heftig debat, ikke mindst på grund af to notoriske skandaler, der klæber til hendes politiske historie.

De skandaler har partiformand Erik Jensen til gengæld valgt at lægge til side, så partiet kan høste af de potentielle gevinster, Aleqa Hammond vil bringe med sig: “Det er fem år siden, det skete. Jeg ved, hvem Aleqa er, og hvem hun støtter – nemlig det grønlandske folk. Hun har en stærk identitet og profil. Jeg er overbevist om, at hun kan give os et stærkt boost med den slagkraft, hun har,” lyder hans enkle analyse.

Aleqa Hammond meldte sig ud af Siumut i 2016, hårdt presset af de to skandaleforløb. Fra 2014 blev det gradvist afdækket, at hun havde undladt at tilbagebetale mere end 200.000 kr., som Selvstyrets administration havde lagt ud for rejser til hende og hendes samlever og familie, forbrug på minibar, ferieophold i Paris og Island m.v..

Hun blev aldrig sigtet eller dømt for ulovligheder, men den politiske straf faldt prompte og hårdt: Tre af hendes egne ministre nægtede at fortsætte under hendes ledelse, og da vrede demonstranter i Nuuks gader også krævede hendes exit, måtte hun chokeret først opgive posten både som leder af landsstyret og som partichef.

Hun var forinden blevet kendt som konfronterende og hårdtslående, Grønlands første kvindelige politiske leder, et forbillede for nogle, ubehagelig og uforsonlig for andre. Kritikerne mente bl.a., at hun var alt for uopmærksom over for de smerter, som forskelsbehandlingen mellem de grønlandsksprogede i Grønland og det mindretal af borgere, der hellere taler dansk eller måske ser mere danske end grønlandske ud, kan afstedkomme.

I 2015 gav Siumuts ledelse Aleqa Hammond lov til at stille op og blive valgt til Folketinget, men da hun i 2016 blev grebet i misbrug af et kreditkort udstedt af Folketinget for i alt 12,953 kroner, krævede partitoppen, at hun opgav sin plads i tinget. (Misbruget var i mellemtiden ved en fejl i Folketingets administration sluppet ud i Ekstra Bladet).

Hammond nægtede at forlade sin taburet, i stedet meldte hun sig ud af partiet. Hun fortsatte som løsgænger, siden som folketingsmedlem frem til Folketingsvalget i 2019 for det lille grønlandske parti Nunatta Qitornai.

Ved et valg til Inatsisartut i Grønland i 2018 stillede hun op for Nunatta Qitornai, men hun fik kun 171 stemmer; ikke nok til en plads i parlamentet. Hun strøg dog ind som stedfortræder, og blev hurtigt bl.a. formand for parlamentets Udenrigs- og Sikkerhedspolitiske Udvalg. Aleqa Hammond taler udmærket tysk og engelsk og trækker på en erfaring ikke bare som landsstyreformand, men også som finans- og udenrigsansvarlig. Sine hyppige communiquer på Facebook skriver hun dog næsten udelukkende på grønlandsk.

Aleqa Hammond har sjældent spildt en chance for at søge øget indflydelse; det er næppe et vildt gæt, at hun også har budt denne seneste chance for et politisk comeback varmt velkommen.

Teksten her er en let redigeret udgave af en nyhedsanalyse på Altinget/Arktis 3. november 2021. 


How we discovered the norternmost island on Earth (II)

september 2, 2021 • Af

We were a team of five from the Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021, a Swiss-Danish scientific expedition, that landed on the island in a small chartered helicopter in late July.

We were convinced that we had landed on Oodaap Qeqertaa — or Oodaaq Island — an islet north of Greenland first sighted in 1978 by Danish geodesists and identified as the northernmost of its kind.

It was approaching midnight, when, unhindered by fog or any other onslaught of nasty weather, we set out from our quarters at a mining camp in Citronen Fjord.

Parts of our team flew in a Twin Otter toward Cape Morris Jesup, the northernmost tip of Greenland’s landmass and thus the northernmost point of land in the world, while the rest of us made a detour with the helicopter trying to locate Oodaap Qeqertaa and, if possible, make a brief landing there.

An aerial view of the island showing its expanse – notice the read helicopter from Air Greenland (Photo: Julian Charrière / Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021 / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany) Click to enlarge


We flew for about an hour over the wondrously majestic mountains of Pearyland, Greenland’s northernmost glacier-graced region, and then conducted a brief search of the shallow waters beyond of the flat reaches of northern Greenland’s coastal planes. Above the icy waters, resplendent in the late-night sun, the pilot soon spotted what we all agreed had to be Oodaap Qeqertaa.

The pilot scanned the area for polar bears and then landed on this otherwise stark, unassuming bank of gravel, sea ice, windblown snow patches, yellowish mud and a number of cone-shaped piles of gravel and rock, each standing a meter or two high. The coordinates on the helicopter’s instrument panel told us that we were at 83° 40′ 59.1″ North and 030° 41′ 52.2″ West. The precise size of the islet was hard to ascertain as it was ringed by ice, but I guessed it was less than 30 meters from one end to the other; a more serious estimation later concluded that it is perhaps 60 x 80 meters. Much is covered by icefloes, so the exact size is hard to ascertain.

We didn’t spend much time there, less than an hour, but, as I related in an earlier account, we managed a brief ceremonial swim; it wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it was a fitting gesture to mark a special moment.

A camera drone was launched, a small cairn was built and a notice left in the name of the expedition. Our expedition coordinator, Morten Rasch, a Danish coastal geomorphologist, waved a Greenlandic flag. Oodaap Qeqertaa was named after one of the legendary Greenlandic sled pilots from the Thule district, indispensable as they were to the early mapping of northern Greenland in the first part of the 20th century.

Not Oodaaq after all

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when we had returned home, that we discovered to our surprise that we hadn’t been where we thought we were.

It began when an old acquaintance, Rene Forsberg, a professor at DTU Space, the Danish national space institute, heard through the grapevine about our expedition and the trip to what we at the time thought was Oodaap Qeqertaa. He wrote to ask for the precise coordinates of our helicopter’s landing spot and then subjected them to a more precise comparison with the coordinates of Oodaap Qeqertaa that were recorded in 1978.

It was at this time we learned that the precise positioning of the world’s northernmost island is more than a matter of idle trivia for the amusement of a group of adventurous spirits who share an interest in the Arctic.

Case in point: the location of Oodaap Qeqertaa, as it was registered in 1978, was used as the northernmost point on the coastline of Greenland by the Danish government and Greenland’s Self-Rule Authority in their 2014 joint submission to the UN Continental Shelf Commission. The submission makes the Kingdom of Denmark’s case for why it should be awarded the rights to vast tracts of seabed in the central part of the Arctic Ocean. Russia and Canada have their own substantial interests in this part of the ocean.

Forsberg and DTU Space are advisors to the Danish authorities, including the Foreign Ministry, in surveying Greenland and identifying its farthest reaches. He soon established that, according to our pilot’s coordinates, the island we visited on July 27 was positioned significantly further off the coast and to the north of the position registered for Oodaap Qeqertaa in 1978.

Forsberg has more than just a passing knowledge of the matter: as a student back in 1978, he was part of the official Danish expedition that first spotted Oodaap Qeqertaa and added it to the formal records, but his conclusion left no doubt.

“You were on something that lies some 800 meters further out than the old Oodaaq Ø,” he said, using the Danish name. “It is a new island that has not been mapped before, and you can be fairly certain that it is currently the northernmost island in the world. You have discovered an island that is of a type that comes and goes. I once flew over an island in this area and watched as it was flattened by three-meter-thick ice floe. The islands that American expeditions have identified at approximately the same latitude have most likely disappeared again. You can see them easily from a helicopter but you didn’t see any other than the one you landed on.”

Short-lived sister islands

Our belief that we had indeed been on world’s northernmost island, and that it had not been Oodaap Qeqertaa, grew stronger after reading an article in Polar Record 2019 titled “Oodaaq Ø and other short-lived islets north of Greenland,” by Danish geologist Ole Bennike and U.S. explorer Jeff Shea.

The two authors recounted how no less than seven small islands, including Oodaap Qeqertaa, have been registered in the shallow waters off the tip of Greenland since 1978 by Danish and American expeditions (which may account for some of the names given to them: 1996 American Top of the World Island, Stray Dog West and 2003 Euro-American Island). All of them seem to have disappeared again. According to Bennike and Shea, Oodaap Qeqertaa has not been seen since 1980, and there are no sightings of any of the other six registered islets after 2008.

Rasch, our coastal geomorphologist, who is the scientific director of Arctic Station, the oldest research station in Greenland, explained that an islet in these waters, formed by old moraine that has been pushed above the surface by sea ice, can disappear as rapidly as it comes when ice floes are shifted about in the shallow waters by winds, waves and currents.

Head of Expedition, Swiss industrialist Christiane Leister poses next to the little cairn built by the expedition on the new island. (Photo: Henrik Lassen)

We brought back Ziploc bags containing mud and gravel samples for analysis. These are currently being examined by another member of our expedition, Anders Priemé, a microbial ecologist with the Institute of Biology at the University of Copenhagen. He will attempt to isolate DNA from microorganisms in the samples, most likely bacteria, and compare them with international databases.

“Since there is a big difference between bacteria in soil and in marine environments, the composition of bacteria will reveal whether the island is mostly marine or terrestrial,” he wrote in an email. “It is most likely that we will find both types of bacteria, but I hope to find a dominance of bacteria from one of the two types of environments. And yes, if I only find bacteria from a marine environment, then it is probably not an island, but only marine mud, pushed upwards from the seabed more recently. And vice versa: if I find that terrestrial bacteria dominate, you were swimming from the world’s northernmost true island.”

Others may look for other proof. In order to determine whether a new feature is indeed a true island, hydrologists, for example, will typically ask whether it is dry at high tide. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether this was the case for the island we landed on, but since the tidal differences are not very significant in this part of Greenland, it is certainly likely this is the case.

A name for the new island?

The formal naming of the new island or islet, should it ever become relevant, will be a matter for the Greenlandic Council for Place Names, established by law in 2017. The days when passing expeditions could name mountains, fjords or islands in Greenland as they pleased are gone forever, although private citizens, including foreigners, are welcome to make suggestions. The council’s standard practice is to name new features in the Greenlandic language and according to local linguistic traditions, and not to use the names of living people, except those of the Danish royal family.

Meanwhile, more islands are likely to be sighted as the changing climate rapidly alters the face of Greenland. At Carlsberg Fjord, in northeastern Greenland, which we flew over on our way north, an outcropping at the mouth of the fjord recently turned out to be an island when the ice that had previously connected it to the coastline melted.

Further out at sea lies Tuppiap Qeqertaa (or Tobias’ Island), which might have been created quite recently by icebergs pushing up gravel and sediments from the seabed. A Danish expedition first raised flags here in 2001. Soon after, the island was used in negotiations with Norway to determine ownership of the seabed between Greenland and the islands of Svalbard, whose status as a part of Norway is the same as Greenland’s status within the Kingdom of Denmark. The outcome was that Greenland’s territory grew by more than 900 square kilometers of seabed. Tuppiap Qeqertaa now appears on its own Greenlandic stamp.

We probably shouldn’t expect the new islet to receive a comparable honor, but never mind: for the time being it, by all accounts, is the northernmost feature of its kind on Earth.

The Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021 traveled in Greenland from July 18-30. It was initiated and financed by Swiss industrialist Christiane Leister. Its primary purpose was to conduct research into climate change in the Arctic. On July 27, a team of five landed on the new island north of Greenland: head of expedition Christiane Leister, scientific coordinator Morten Rasch, artist Julian Charrière, expedition leader Henrik Lassen, Air Greenland helicopter pilot Søren Thor Jørgensen and Martin Breum, a Copenhagen-based journalist and author.


This text, which has been slighted edited to reflect what we now know of the size of the island, was first published on on August 27th 2021. 


How we discovered the northernmost island on Earth

september 2, 2021 • Af

In July 2021 I participated on the scientific, climate-oriented Swiss-Danish Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021. Then, on July 27 five of us incidentally discovered what turned out to be the northernmost island on Earth. We landed in a helicopter in perfect weather a few kilometers north of the very uppermost tip of Greenland.  

Our expedition leader Henrik Lassen, a former Siriuspartrol member, collects samples from the new island. In the background Greenland’s coastline a mountainranges. (Photo: Christiane Leister)

Here is coverage from CBC in Canada, including a radio-interview:

Some of us took a short ceremonial swim to celebrate the special occassion – the air temperature was well beyound zero, the sun was up and shining.   (Photo: Morten Rasch).

Our discovery eventually created a significant amount of media attention. Reuters, the BBC, Associated press and others from around the world published their own versions of the story; using amongst others some of the video footage done by Swiss Artist Julian Charrière, who was also part of the team. 

Reuters published this piece, where some of Julian’s video is embedded:

I wrote about the discovery in Weekendavisen in Denmark, you can read my piece in English here on, in Sermitisiaq in Greenland and on in the Faroe Islands. What happended? Why is the island suddenly there? What happened to the other islands previously discovered in these waters? And what will be the name of the new island?

You can also read my piece from ArcticToday elsewhere on my website.