Donald Trump's simplistic way of looking at the world has been on show time and again, but no more embarrassingly than with his row with Denmark over Greenland. The American president had suggested to the European nation that it should sell the island to the United States. That would be fine were it actually for sale, which it is not, and the Danes able to hand it over, which they do not have the authority to.
Told of the absurdity of his suggestion, he responded in typically undiplomatic manner, through Twitter, that he was cancelling a planned Danish visit for next month and would no longer be meeting the country's queen.
Until the exchange, the US and Denmark had good relations. All Trump needed to keep that in place was general knowledge and diplomatic behaviour. Greenland, while Danish territory, is self-ruled and only looks to Copenhagen for defence and foreign policy. The Danish constitution stipulates that the future of the island's sovereignty is up to its population to decide in a referendum. Acquisition would involve not raising the idea of selling to the government of Denmark and negotiating a price, but convincing Greenlanders whether they would want to be part of the US.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the suggestion "absurd", adding: "Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over." Trump said the response was "nasty" and that "you don't talk to the United States that way".
The president has good reason for wanting Greenland, the island estimated to have more than one-quarter of the world's reserves of the rare metals used in hi-tech applications; China dominates production and is threatening to disrupt American supplies over its trade war with the US. The island also hosts the US' northernmost missile warning and space surveillance base and deep water port.
The US bought Louisiana and Alaska, but an attempt to buy Greenland in 1946 failed. The era of treating countries and territories as real estate transactions has passed. Ego and disrespect similarly have no place in international relations.
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