By U.S. Ambassador Carla Sands
Nothing quite prepares you to land in Greenland for the first time. You fly over the immense ice sheet, catch a glimpse of brilliantly blue water, descend into a glacier-cut fjord dotted with floating icebergs, and then touch down on a wide open plain. Arriving from Copenhagen, crossing the tarmac, I was caught by a sense of how small we are, in a land so big. Thankfully, the famous signpost in Kangerlussuaq is there to remind visitors that the world’s major cities are actually not that far away. By plane, London and New York are no more than four hours away. Even Los Angeles and Tokyo could be reached on a non-stop flight.
During my visits to Greenland, I have been overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the island, but even more so by the enthusiastic and generous way Greenlanders encourage newcomers to experience the island’s vibrant food and culture. Just like in my hometown in Pennsylvania, people in Greenland are down to earth, practical, and known for their friendliness. I instantly felt welcome. My early visits laid the foundation for what I hoped would become a lasting symbol to the friendship between the United States and Greenland: the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Nuuk.
When I moved to the Kingdom of Denmark as the U.S. Ambassador in 2017, I made it my mission to learn more about Greenland first-hand. With one of our outstanding diplomats at the Embassy in Copenhagen, now Consul Sung Choi, I had the opportunity to explore so much of Greenland. I met with government and business leaders in Nuuk, with scientists studying our environment at Summit Station, and with community leaders and small business entrepreneurs in towns like Sisimiut and Narsaq. On one of these trips, I met a young woman businessowner who studied in Copenhagen and returned to Greenland to open a salon, where she was providing space for another female stylist to start her business. Everywhere I went I saw the enormous potential of growing Greenland’s tourism industry and service economy, and heard the desire for better education, English-language skills, and the development of Greenland’s mining industry.
As an American visiting Greenland, I also was drawn to the shared histories, cultures, and hopes that many Greenlanders have with communities in the U.S. Arctic state of Alaska. As Ambassador, I worked to connect the Government of Greenland
to Alaskan leaders, so that both sides could gain from further exchange of ideas and experiences. These connections deepen the strong bond felt by all who inhabit the uniquely challenging environments of the North American Arctic.
Our shared experiences in the Arctic extend to our security relationship, where the United States and Greenland have a long history of cooperation. During the Second World War, the United States built weather stations, ports, and air bases in Greenland to provide crucial data and support the operations of the allied forces fighting the Nazis in Europe. The international airports at Kangerlussuaq and Narsarsuaq, still in use today, were first constructed with the colossal effort of American airmen. Shortly after WWII, even while UN coalition forces led by Generals MacArthur and Ridgway, were beating back communism on the Korean Peninsula, we built the base at Pituffik— the United States’ northernmost base, and a key component of NATO’s defenses against the threat of the then-Soviet Union.
The world now is in a very different place, and Greenland’s geostrategic importance – already substantial – is growing even more. As Secretary of State Pompeo said, “the world has long felt a magnetic pull towards the Arctic, but never more so than today.” Although he said that over a year and a half ago, at the last in-person meeting of the Arctic Council ministerial, these words still resonate today. Forward-thinking eyes are on the Arctic, and protecting it is a shared responsibility.
Working with the governments of Denmark and Greenland to reopen our Consulate in Nuuk is a lasting achievement of which we are all very proud. Through it, we are further strengthening our diplomatic, commercial, and people-to-people ties in Greenland, and across the Kingdom of Denmark. These ties are evidence of the strong bonds that have always connected the North American Arctic.
That is why I am so proud to have signed the Common Plan for U.S.-Greenland Cooperation this past October with Premier Kim Kielsen, cementing our commitments to benefit the Greenlandic people with a new Thule Base Maintenance Contract, to strengthen trade, to invest in sustainable tourism, and to further educational exchanges between our two peoples. Through our efforts to partner with Greenland on economic projects and science cooperation, we hope to help Greenlandic people realize their dreams. Recently, we had the pleasure of announcing two new cooperative agreements between universities in the United States and institutes of higher learning in Greenland. These agreements blaze the path for true partnerships between educators in our two countries and offer opportunities for students and communities to grow economically—and sustainably—for years to come.
It is impossible to travel to Greenland without being moved by the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people. I will forever cherish my trips there, and in the coming years I look forward to another visit – perhaps next time via a non-stop flight from the United States. Greenland will always remain “close to home.” Qujanaq, and takuss.