Denmark Is Bigger Than You Ever Imagined

The “tiny” Kingdom of Denmark — that sprout on the head of Germany — is actually a massive nation pulling in at 12th largest in the world.

In terms of geographic size, it’s bigger than Germany, Turkey, and France — combined.

It’s all because in the 1700s, the Danes quietly started stealing an island from Norway when nobody was paying attention. They sent some settlers, built some factories, and were soon its recognised masters.

Since then, atlases around the world have been misleading people, misrepresenting the largest island in the Atlantic Ocean as its own sovereign country.

Contrary to what you might think, Greenland is not a sovereign state, but a semiautonomous country in the Kingdom of Denmark. The 57,000 people of Greenland have no floating currency, no seat at the UN, and no defence force. For all of these things, it relies on Denmark.

GreenlandBob Strong/ReutersIce seen floating off the town of Kulusuk, east Greenland.

In many ways the relationship is like Scotland’s with the United Kingdom, but in a move that might keep Greenland from rebelling, Denmark gives the country over half a billion dollars in aid each year.

The block grant makes up 60% of the Greenland’s annual budget, equating to more than $US10,000 for every Greenlander. With Greenland’s reliance on Denmark’s generosity, the country has been slow to diversify and develop its own economy.

Still, for their part, the Danes have a clear interest in keeping Greenlanders happy. The country has a strategically important location.

European Space AgencyAs polar ice-caps melt due to climate change, Greenland will have an increasingly important geo-strategic position.

Greenland is technically part of North America and is one of the few countries with direct access to the North Pole. With climate change melting the arctic caps, Greenland could be a major player in the security of new shipping routes.

Denmark’s relationship with America is also enhanced by Greenland. By hosting numerous US military bases and installations, Denmark has used the island to elevate its own significance with American administrations.

Meanwhile, Greenlanders think of independence as eventually inevitable. In 2008, three quarters of Greenlanders voted for significantly more autonomy, and Denmark has since relinquished its claim to the country’s natural resources.

With the ability to control its own resources, Greenland’s Prime Minister told the Financial Times that it could become financially independent of Denmark “easily within my lifetime.”

Whether the country takes the step towards actual independence, however, remains to be seen. In the meantime, Denmark remains one of the world’s largest nation states.

GreenlandReuters/Michael Kappeler/PoolA helicopter flies over the Eqi Glacier near the town of Ilulissat. 80% of Greenland is covered by ice, in some places it’s 4km thick.

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