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A new deal

US base deal “no longer acceptable”, Nuuk says

Greenland’s current defence agreement with the US means it may get nothing out of letting Washington have a base in the country

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Angered by the loss of a lucrative base-service contract at Thule Airbase, a US military facility in far northern Greenland, lawmakers in Nuuk are now warning America’s military brass that they will seek to change a 1951 agreement between Denmark and the United States that, in part, grants Washington the use of the land for free.

“It is plain to see that Greenland is no longer benefitting sufficiently from the US military presence,” the national assembly’s foreign policy and security committee said in a statement this week.

The deal, though irritating to Nuuk, was made palatable by adding an arrangement that all but guaranteed that a Greenlandic firm would win the service contract each time it came up for renewal.

SEE RELATED: Lease, not lend

That has meant that, since 1979, Greenland Contractors, a base-service firm that is partly owned by the Self-Rule Authority, has had a lock on the tender. A 2009 estimate concluded that the contract contributed 150 million kroner ($21 million) in revenue to the host country each year. In addition, Great Greenland was required to provide apprenticeships.

Greenland's tolerance for the arrangement began to dry up in 2014, when Great Greenland lost the most recent renewal, worth $411 million over a seven-year period to the Danish-registered subsidiary of Exelis, an American firm.

Nuuk, with tentative backing from Copenhagen, protested the decision, arguing that the winning firm was controlled by an American parent company, in violation of a stipulation in the agreement that the firm be either Danish or Greenlandic.

After an initial ruling by a US court went Greenland’s way, an appeal later found that the winning in firm was, legally, a Danish firm and could take over the contract starting in March 2017.

SEE RELATED: Losing base

Despite the consternation losing the tender has caused, some lawmakers have argued that the snub ought to serve as the impetus Nuuk needed to finally broach the matter of compensation with the Americans.

The committee, in its statement, appeared to agree. “The Thule base-service contract has shown itself to be too risky a construction that yields an uncertain return to the Greenlandic society as a whole,” it wrote.

Getting America to pay for use of the base is far from certain: in addition to complicated negotiations, it would put Copenhagen on the opposite side of the table from one of its staunchest allies.

Greenlandic lawmakers, however, are determined. A unanimous committee described the situation as “no longer acceptable”, and gave the government the the go-ahead to work to get as much possible out of the US military presence. This follows a statement issued in July by the opposition that it would push the government to negotiate a new agreement with Washington.

The enemy, at least in this case, is their enemy’s enemy, too.