Greenland's Role in Missile Defense

"Heated Arctic dispute/Greenland, Alaska natives balk at new U.S. military plans."
Nov. 3, San Francisco Chronicle.

"Indigenous representatives support Thule residents"

"Evicted by the U.S.military, the Inuit prepare to fight Star Wars"

"Greenpeace says US report on Greenland is misleading, full of holes."May5, 2003




































(The following paragraphs are excerpts from MA thesis on missile defense by S. Fritz and are based largely on research done by Journalist Kory Cappoza of the Center for Investigative Journalism)

Deployment of NMD relies on a battle-management upgrade of the four existing ballistic missile early-warning radar sites. Denmark has vowed to veto the use of the American early-warning radar at Thule, Greenland, if the U.S. system violates the ABM treaty. Further complicating matters in Greenland is a pending case dealing with the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral land. The story of the "Hingitaq 53" is intimately related to American defenses and the 'Northern Defense Perimeter" in particular. In 1953, the residents of Thule (Uummannaq) were forcibly relocated from their village site a few days before they became Danish citizens. The American military had chosen the site for the Thule Air Force Base and a Ballistic Missile Early Warning radar in 1951. In 1999, the surviving fifty-three people of those relocated won a High Court ruling establishing the fact that the territory belonging to the indigenous peoples of Thule had been expropriated without proper legislation and compensation as required by the Danish constitution. The case was appealed, but a Supreme Court ruling in 2002 could remove the right of U.S. occupation to the land and the radar.

The Inuit inhabitants are Thule are also suing the Danish government in an attempt to force the United States to clean up Greenland's four abandoned DEW line sites and the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar located on their ancestral homeland. Missile defense would entail $200 million to upgrade the Thule site for the system and for testing experimental X-band radars. Fears of contamination to their food chain from the construction and operation of the base are heightened by the risk of the site becoming a target for attack (Boggan, 2001). The Department of Defense, according to Missile Defense Agency spokesman Lt. Colonel Rick Lehner, is not required to complete environmental impact statements for installations outside of the U.S. He commented that Thule residents do not need to worry about further environmental contamination from the site since the upgrades only involve new software changes and computer equipment (Capozza, 2001).

The Danish and Greenlanders have a policy barring nuclear weapons within their borders, but in 1995 the U.S. military informed them that nuclear surface-to-air and other warheads had been stored at the Thule air base. In 2001, the U.S. government unclassified documents reveling that, in 1968, a B-52 bomber laden with four nuclear bombs had crashed twelve miles from the Thule air base. Greenlanders had long suspected that an unexploded hydrogen bomb had been lost off the northeast coast of their territory in the accident. In the report on the incident released over thirty years after the event, the Pentagon contended that all four bombs had been accounted for although a pound of plutonium had been released into the environment. Reports of cancer and other illnesses began surfacing among Danish and Greenlandic Thule air base employeesin the eighties and nineties. Some 1,700 workers were exposed to radiation after the plane crash. The Danish government acknowledged the accident and paid the workers a $15.5 million settlement in 1995 (Cappoza, 2001).

Aqulaq Lynge, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and an active opponent of missile defense, reported that plutonium from the incident has destroyed traditional hunting grounds. A 1991 Danish study confirmed his accusation. The sediment on the bottom of Bylot Sound near the site of the plane crash had extremely elevated levels of radioactive plutonium--more than 100,000 becquerels per square meter. Local shellfish exhibited levels of plutonium up to 1,000 times higher than they did before the crash (ibid).

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), a sub-group of the Arctic Council, considers radioactivity to be one of the central pollution problems in the Arctic. Greatly reduced nuclear testing has resulted in dramatically lower levels of radioactivity from fallout in the Arctic. AMAP considers that now, accidents with nuclear weapons pose the greatest threat of radioactive contamination problems. Practices that aggravate the risk of accident include the use of floating platforms to carry nuclear weapons. Many weapons are designed not to explode even if there is an airplane crash or a fire in a submarine, and an accidental explosion with nuclear weapons would probably not lead to a full-scale detonation and the releases would be localized. However, many nuclear weapons are not constructed safely. AMAP concludes that because new nuclear nations may not be able to use the safest weapon designs, a more dangerous situation will occur if nuclear proliferation is not prevented.


Indigenous representatives support Thule residents

At a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva this week, 200 representatives of indigenous peoples supported a resolution backing the Inughuit in Thule and their so-called Hingitaq 53 organization.

In 1953, Inughuit who live in the Thule district of northern Greenland were forced to relocate to Qaanaaq to make room for the U.S. air base in Thule.

The Hingitaq 53 group represents the interests of relocated Inughuit and their descendants in a legal action against the Danish government, asking for the return of their ancestral lands and hunting grounds or compensation.

The Danish High Court is expected to pronounce its judgment on the case later this year.

The resolution approved by the U.N. working group on indigenous peoples reads: "The indigenous peoples gathered at the 7th session of United Nations Commission of Human Rights Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, January 28 - February 8, 2002, unequivocally support the Inughuit of Thule, Greenland and Hingitaq 53 in their legal proceedings and demands for return of their ancestral lands and compensation for the adverse impacts caused by the illegal taking of land and forced removal and relocation of the Inughuit,"

The group is responsible for drafting a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Aqqaluk Lynge, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Hjalmar Dahl, director of ICC’s U.N. related work, and Dalee S. Dorough from Alaska, a lawyer and an international expert in aboriginal law, are participating in the meetings.
Greenpeace says US report on Greenland is misleading, full of holes
COPENHAGEN (AFP) May 05, 2003

A classified US report on heavy metals and chemical waste dumpsites at a US radar station in Greenland is misleading and its conclusions are doubtful, the environmental group Greenpeace said Monday.
"Apparently no one knows what there is in the 54 dumpsites at Thule Air Base that are a time bomb for Greenland," Mads Christensen, a Greenpeace activist in Copenhagen, told AFP.

Greenpeace, which obtained a copy of the 4,000-page US document, rapped the Danish government for putting pressure on the semi-autonomous Greenlanders to approve US plans for a controversial missile defence shield, which would entail modernising a US radar station in Thule in the northwest of the Arctic island.

"It is shameful that the Danish government is pushing Greenlanders to say Yes to a new deal with the United States on the modernisation of Thule... when nobody knows the extent of waste problem and who will pay for damage to the ultra-sensitive artic region," he said.

In a confidential internal document made available to Greenpeace, the Danish environment ministry was highly critical of the US report, saying it "uses risk criteria that are far removed from international standards."

The ministry document also said it conducted its own investigation, in 2001, in the Inuit village of Dundas (Uummannaq in Inuit), which remained under US administration from 1953 until last February.

At least one sample from Dundas showed higher than authorised levels of PCB (polychlorobiphnyles) chemicals, the document said.

"There are more than 50 other dumpsites at the Thule base. What will happen when the United States leaves, since according to the 1951 US-Danish defence treaty on Thule Air Base, they do not have to clean up before leaving?" said Christensen.

The group criticised Copenhagen for keeping the US report under wraps, saying it would send a copy to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, a non-governmental organisation that represents 125,000 Inuit in Greenland, Russia, Alaska and Canada.

"We can also send it to the local Greenland government is they wish us to," Christensen said.

Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moeller was due to visit Greenland on Tuesday to sign an agreement giving local authorities equal rights with Copenhagen in Greenland-related foreign policy matters.

This is a condition set by the local Greenland government in exchange for accepting the modernisation of Thule base.

Greenland's 57,000 residents generally oppose the US plan because they fear it will put their island at the centre of a new conflict.

The United States has formally asked Denmark to allow a technical upgrading of the Cold War-era Thule base, thought to be one of the major listening posts required for the National Missile Defense (NMD) shield to be operational.

The Danish government is expected to announce its formal decision at the end of April or early May, according to government officials, but it is known to be favourable to the US plan.