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Greenland gets first NATO envoy amid rising tensions in Arctic

Even though Lida Skifte Lennert will formally represent the interests of the Kingdom of Denmark, her appointment gives Greenland its own voice in North Atlantic security talks and brings Arctic expertise to the alliance.

NUUK, Greenland (CN) — The government of Greenland and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced this month that they will for the first time send a diplomat from Greenland to join Denmark's permanent representation on the North Atlantic Council, the Brussels-based political decision-making wing of NATO.

Because the Arctic island is a self-governing part of Denmark, Greenland has never before had its own NATO representative who can provide expert knowledge on Arctic conditions and security interests in the region.

But in May, experienced foreign affairs diplomat and lawyer Lida Skifte Lennert of Nuuk will join the political and military alliance.    

“I am happy that the road was paved for me to contribute with knowledge about Arctic conditions and Greenland's society," she said in an interview with Courthouse News. "The government of Greenland has been increasingly involved in foreign security and defense questions, and part of my task is to network and show the full diversity that we have in the Kingdom of Denmark."

Lennert emphasized that even though she represents Greenland, her job is to look after the kingdom's overall interests in full coordination with her 43 Danish colleagues, adding that the foreign policy collaboration between Denmark and its two self-governing territories – Greenland the Faroe Islands – has grown stronger.   

Recently, political winds in Greenland have blown towards more inclusion when it comes to decisions on foreign policy, defense and security.  

Under the slogan “Nothing about us, without us,” politicians in Greenland asked the Danish government to promise to involve Greenland in national defense budget. That happened last year, when Greenland Prime Minister Múte B. Egede also stressed the importance of peaceful development in the Arctic area, especially in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.    

While Lennert could not elaborate on specific NATO priorities, she emphasized that Greenland's foreign interests are closely connected to its far-north position.  

“Naturally, we have expressed worries about the security situation and have underlined the need for making joint decisions on international peace and stability in NATO, which is also focused at adapting to and combating the impact of climate change,” she said.  

Lida Skifte Lennert is the Kingdom of Denmark’s new NATO representative from Greenland. (Uffe Weng/Scanpix via Courthouse News)

Russia is also located in the Arctic Circle, and there is little doubt that the country's military aggression has increased the value of being part of NATO for its northern neighbors.

Sweden and Finland are both applying for a membership, and 72% of Greenlanders have a positive view of NATO defense cooperation, according to a 2021 survey from the University of Greenland's Nasiffik - Center for Foreign & Security Policy.

Rasmus Leander Nielsen, one the researchers behind the survey and head of Nasiffik, told Courthouse News that NATO representation gives Greenland a much stronger voice on the international security and defense politics scene.

”Greenland will be in a better position to have its interests heard," he said. "That is important, because historically many decisions were taken without the knowledge or consent from locals. We saw that with...the establishing of the Thule [U.S. Air Base in northwestern Greenland] and Camp Century, where nuclear waste was buried under the ice."

He added, “To prevent such events in the future, it has been important for Greenland to establish itself as an independent actor.”

However, Nielsen also noted that the timing is not coincidental. The war in Ukraine has marked the return of high-tension geopolitics in the Arctic region, and Russia has upgraded some of its military bases in somewhat close proximity to Greenland, including the Nagurskoye air base on the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Both Norway and the U.S. have initiated defense drills in the area, which can easily be interpreted as rearmament from the Russian side.

At the same time, several Russian submarines have been spotted off Greenland's eastern coast.

"[The] focus is to avoid an escalating conflict spiral. We know that monitoring is lacking in the area, so that is probably one of the things Greenland will ask for in NATO,” Nielsen said, adding that another priority will likely be logistics routes within Greenland. Both are meant to optimize trade opportunities and transport of military equipment.

Although tensions are high around Russia and all mutual cooperation in the intergovernmental Arctic Council is on hold, Nielsen noted that Greenland has been vocal about the need to get Russia back on board in the future as Moscow is simply too big a player in the Arctic to be avoided.

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