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OVER THE TOP: ARCTIC SHIPPING LANES

OVER THE TOP: ARCTIC SHIPPING LANES



Last month, the Venta Maersk (pictured above) became the first international container ship to complete the journey from Asia to Europe through the Arctic Circle. Until now, this journey could be made only via the Indian Ocean and through the Suez Canal, or around the Cape of Good Hope and up Africa's west coast.

But an accelerated melting of the polar ice cap means that a stretch of Arctic waters known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR) has now become navigable for several months a year. The NSR has a lot going for it: the trip is 30-50 percent shorter than the traditional routes between Asia and Europe, and it has 100 percent fewer pirates.

The Venta, loaded with electronics and frozen food, left South Korea in August, made a stop in Vladivostok, sailed through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia, moved along Russia's north coast, and with the help of a nuclear icebreaker, passed into the Norwegian Sea. It docked in St. Petersburg last Friday.

As the ice melts further and the journey becomes more common, the balance of power in global trade could shift substantially. The biggest winner might well be the Kremlin. A sizable portion of the Northern Sea Route runs through Russia's territorial waters, allowing Moscow to set conditions for passage, grant and deny access, and impose duties along the route. The strategic and economic benefits are obvious.

More broadly, the melting ice cap will make it possible to extract vast quantities of the oil, gas, and minerals thought to lie beneath the Arctic seabed. That will only intensify the competition for territorial claims among Arctic powers—the United States, Russia, Canada, and the Scandinavians. Thus far, Russia has made the biggest claim by arguing that its continental shelf extends deep into the Arctic Circle. And making geopolitical matters more interesting, as we wrote back in April, China will want a piece of the action too.

For now, the need for accompanying icebreakers means costs are high, and the journey remains unpredictable and dangerous. One authoritative study says the route won't be economically viable for significant ship traffic until 2035. (Particularly in the world of long-term investment in transport, that's not as far off as it sounds. We're now closer to 2035 than to 2001.)

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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"The 'American exceptionalism' that I grew up with, the 'American exceptionalism' of the Cold War…I do think has outlived its usefulness." Those words coming from Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top State Department official under President Obama, indicate how much the world has changed in the past few decades. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy

Less than a week out from Election Day, 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots, and many of those are people who are voting "early" for the first time because of the pandemic. In fact, the early vote total alone this year is already equal to nearly half of all ballots cast in the 2016 general election, suggesting that 2020 turnout could reach historic levels. Most important, however, is how things are playing out in key battleground states where the outcome of the US election will be determined. In Texas, for instance, a huge surge in early voting by Democrats this year has raised the possibility that a state which has been won by Republican candidates since 1976 could now be up for grabs. Here we take a look at early voting in battleground states in 2020 as compared to 2016.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

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