Remarks by Ambassador Sands at the Future Greenland Conference

The United States and Greenland:

New Opportunities Through Expanded Partnership and Cooperation

Good morning.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you all.  I see some friends and familiar faces in the audience.  I know that everyone here has Greenland’s future and best interests at heart.  You are joined by the United States in your quest to create new opportunities while honoring the culture that makes Greenland so unique.

Greenland has a long history of attracting Americans because Americans are adventurers at heart.  And as our friends at “Visit Greenland” would say, nothing says adventure more than Greenland.  While our modern diplomatic history here began in 1940 – during a time of savage war and turmoil in Europe – the U.S.-Greenland partnership goes back much further, to a time of discovery and exploration.

I’d like to share a story with you that says a lot about the quality of the relationship we share with Greenland.  This story takes us back nearly 150 years ago, to the Polaris expedition of 1871.  Experts say it was the first serious attempt to reach the North Pole.  Facing incredible odds in one of the world’s most testing environments, this American-led expedition did not succeed in its mission.  The ship struck an iceberg off the western coast of Greenland, and the commander eventually died.  But that is not the end of the story.  19 members of the expedition were stranded on an ice floe, and they drifted for more than six months across the northern Atlantic.  Miraculously, however, all 19 men survived the journey on ice from Greenland to Newfoundland – almost 3,000 kilometers away.

How did these 19 explorers manage to survive, against all odds?  Well, two months before the ship struck that iceberg, it had paid a visit to the village of Upernavik, where Inuit explorer Hans Hendrik joined the crew as the expedition’s interpreter.  Two months later it was Suersaq, as Hans was also known, who saved these mostly American men from a desperate fate.  Suersaq was not a stranger to the stark challenges posed by the Arctic environment; he had helped two other American expeditions, and he was a polar explorer in his own right.  It was Suersaq and another Inuit from Canada who fed and sheltered the expedition team.

Suersaq knew how to hunt for seal out in the open ocean.  He knew how to build igloos on that ever-shrinking piece of ice adrift on the currents.  He knew the meaning of leadership and partnership, and so he shared his skills and know-how with the American crew.  In 1872, men like Suersaq knew how to face the unknowable future.

Greenland today has a bright future.  To fully seize the incredible opportunity developing in the Arctic, it will need the same spirit that Suersaq displayed over 150 years ago.  Undoubtedly, people will have concerns about the changes.  What will it mean if the glaciers keep melting so quickly?  What might happen if fishing stocks move away?  Can the influx of tourists be handled?  I want to encourage everyone here to imagine the future, be prepared for change, and consider any challenges that arise as opportunities.  The future of Greenland is bright and it is up to all of you to lead your nation.  It is the defining challenge of your generation to ensure that Greenland has laid the right foundation to take the next steps.

The United States is a nation of pioneers.  We have faced the unknown like you face now and we are here to partner with you, to share our lessons learned, and to encourage you as Greenland diversifies its economy, develops its resources, and takes its step into the limelight.

My team and I have been travelling to Greenland a lot lately and this is my second visit to Nuuk.  I have had the pleasure of seeing the icebergs in Ilulissat, the dog teams in Sisimiut, and the ice sheet rising and Summit Station on the polar icecap.  As I’ve traveled, I’ve witnessed leaders rising up and laying the foundation for a prosperous Greenland for all.

Greenland’s leaders are considering how to protect the majestic scenery while at the same time promoting it to new visitors.  These leaders are educating the youth, encouraging entrepreneurship, partnering with established businesses, and helping create meaningful jobs for Greenland’s youth.  They are mindful that a world-class destination like Ilulissat requires world-class customer service and accommodations, and are working to provide them.  Here in Nuuk, cranes are everywhere and business is booming.  And my message to all of the communities I have visited and my message to you here today is this:  The United States is here and we want to partner with you, lending our expertise where we have it, collaborating where we can, and encouraging you all along the way.

Everyone knows that Greenland is the key to the Arctic.  To help keep this wonderful region safe and secure and to keep the environment healthy and vibrant, we want to build partnerships and cooperation with Greenland.  We both know that we are better off when we work together and when we help each other.

In 1940, the United States opened a consulate in Nuuk.  Greenland had been cut off when the Nazis invaded Denmark but it had not been cut off from the war as supply chains were disrupted.  As World War II dragged on, supply ships from the United States and Canada kept Greenlanders fed, delivered mail free-of-charge to coastal settlements, and even introduced the concept of buying products through mail-order catalogs from great American companies like Sears and Roebuck.  Even the U.S. consulate building was purchased that way in 1940.  It still stands here in Nuuk, just down the street from the Old Harbor.  I admire that building because it reminds me of how long our relationship has weathered the tests of time and how deep our partnership has been over the decades.

During World War II, Greenland was strategically important for predicting the weather in Europe.  And today it remains strategic and helps defend the North American continent from ballistic missile launches that could come from as far away as North Korea.  While the peril of direct military confrontation no longer looms as it did in World War II, the Arctic is facing new and serious security challenges.

Russia is rapidly militarizing the Arctic, building and refurbishing bases all along its coast.  China is threatening the system of free trade, transparency, and rule of law that our economies and environment depend on.  They have stolen hundreds of billions of dollars in intellectual property and now they are threatening the world’s communication systems.  They have enticed countries with promises of easy money and left behind nations wracked by corruption, debt, and crumbling infrastructure.  With temperatures rising and the sea ice melting, their eyes have turned north.  Polar routes will not be used only for commerce.  The High North is a region poised for opportunity but also confronted by increasing threats.

The United States and Greenland are neighbors, bound by geography.  But we are also bound by the ideals we hold in common.  Ideals rooted in democracy and rule of law.  And we share a common vision of a safe, sustainable, and prosperous Greenland.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was prepared to visit Greenland.  Unfortunately for us, an urgent matter pulled him back to Washington, and the visit we were all looking forward to was postponed.  All of us, Greenland, Denmark, and the United States, put in an incredible amount of effort and resources in planning for the visit.  But, all that work is not in vain, as we will find another opportunity for the Secretary of State to visit Greenland.  The United States understands the importance of Greenland, particularly in these times of rapid environmental and geopolitical changes.  And, that is why – even though the trip was postponed – Secretary Pompeo announced that we are committed to expanding our diplomatic engagement in Greenland.

In the past year, my staff and I at the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen have embraced new opportunities to engage with Greenland.  We have travelled more regularly and more extensively than ever before, visiting places beyond Nuuk like Aassiat and Narsaq– to better understand local issues and opportunities.  And this summer, our outreach and presence will become even greater.  A U.S. diplomat, our very own Sung Choi, has already begun spending half his time here in Greenland to strengthen our partnership with Greenlandic institutions and the Greenlandic people.  To support this effort, we will also hire a full-time Greenlandic staff member based in Nuuk, while working for the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen.  This very talented individual will help link us directly with communities throughout Greenland.

In July, planes will fly over southern Greenland, generating mineral maps of the area.  This airborne study will directly benefit Greenland by bolstering the knowledge to attract future investment in the mining sector.  This project is the culmination of four years of close U.S.-Greenlandic cooperation between our Naval Research Laboratories and the U.S. Geological Survey and the Greenlandic Ministry of Mineral Resources and Labor.  It will be a powerful example of how our governments close relationship leads to tangible benefits for the Greenlandic people and industry.

We are also working very hard to make the large amount of research carried out by U.S. scientists more accessible to those who are interested in it here in Greenland.  Last year, I attended a workshop here in Nuuk that brought together more than fifty Greenlandic and American researchers.  The organizers of that workshop will soon release their findings on how we can help expand the benefits of the cutting-edge research that takes place each year on the Greenlandic ice sheet.

This research carries great potential for Greenland and for the world, and is made possible because of earlier partnerships between the United States and Greenland.  The runways that the United States built for the military have been repurposed and two of them now operate as international airports for Greenland.  And the airport in Kangerlussuaq has an enormous economic impact as a result.  We estimate that in Kangerlussuaq alone, U.S.-related spending from researchers and the military provides tens of millions of kroner annually to Greenland’s economy.

And I want to expand our economic relationship to new frontiers.  We are holding conversations with KNI, Royal Arctic Lines, and Air Greenland to find opportunities to expand commercial links with the United States.  We are working with partners in the state of Maine who are interested in increasing U.S. exports to Greenland and receiving Greenlandic imports.

While we seek to expand our broader economic relationship, we are also eager to collaborate with Greenland on harnessing the potential of its own people.  Greenlandic economic success and growth is at the heart of sustainable development and sustainable communities.  And entrepreneurship, actually creating a business based on an idea and then growing that business is key to that success.  That is the key to America’s success.

I know the Greenlandic government is hard at work on providing big-ticket items like infrastructure and power to help diversify the economy.  But if you want to diversify the economy, you will find no better place to start than in the dreams of the young and the talented.  It’s also important to connect the creativity and passion of youth and future entrepreneurs with the mentorship and capital of established businessmen and women.  And just wait, some of the businesses these young entrepreneurs create will one day sponsor this conference.  Greenland is poised to grow.

The United States wants to help.  Over the coming months and years, we are committed to helping Greenlanders embrace entrepreneurship.  Crucially, entrepreneurship is not limited to those with a university education.  Yes, it takes talent and drive and a desire to continually learn and improve. But entrepreneurs should also strive for the best education they can get to compete in the 21st century.  Businesspeople need to know how to balance the books, how to hire and mentor new people, and how to adapt their business to a changing business environment.

Technology is transforming the way business is done and English is a building block of the information age.  We want to help young people learn these basic building blocks for the new economy.  That is why we sent our very first Fulbright English Teaching Assistant here eight months ago.  She is a wonderful young woman and we are proud of her.  Thanks to her example, she will be the first in a series of young students and recent college graduates from the United States who will be visiting Greenland through this program.

I said earlier that Americans are adventurers at heart.  But adventurers are ultimately successful because they have a vision and develop a plan to reach their goal.  It helps to be lucky but you can’t count on it.  If one plans carefully and builds on past knowledge and works together with others, success is more likely.  Perfect planning makes perfect.

The United States and Greenland have a long history and our partnership over the decades has guided us through the deprivations of World War II to the boundless opportunities of today.  Through our continued friendship and increased partnership, Greenland and the United States are stronger together.  Our shared democratic ideals, our shared spirit of adventure, and our shared vision of a prosperous and safe Arctic bind us together even more than our geography.

So let’s expand our commercial and diplomatic connections, let’s deepen our people-to-people ties, and let’s encourage our youth to become entrepreneurs and realize their dreams.

And Greenland’s future will be bright indeed.  Thank you.