OVER THE TOP: ARCTIC SHIPPING LANES

From a political and economic standpoint, climate change and the rising temperatures it generates will create both winners and losers. For more on this, we turn to Signal’s Arctic Bureau Chief, Alexander Kliment.


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 only be made via the Indian Ocean and passage 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.

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.)

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 Willis wrote back in April, China will want a piece of the action.

In 2012, the United States created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect these young people from being deported. Yet just five years later, the program was rescinded, putting close to 700,000 DACA recipients at risk of being banished from the only home they've ever known. More than five dozen of these DACA recipients at risk are Microsoft employees. These young people contribute to the company and serve its customers. They help create products, secure services, and manage finances. And like so many young people across our nation, they dream of making an honest living and a real difference in the communities in which they reside. Yet they now live in uncertainty.

Microsoft has told its Dreamers that it will stand up for them along with all the nation's DACA recipients. It will represent them in court and litigate on their behalf. That's why Microsoft joined Princeton University and Princeton student Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez to file one of the three cases challenging the DACA rescission that was heard on Nov. 12 by the United States Supreme Court.

Read more on Microsoft On The Issues.

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Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was experiencing "brain death," citing a lack of coordination and America's fickleness under Donald Trump as reasons to doubt the alliance's commitment to mutual defense. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was formed in the wake of World War II as a counterweight against Soviet dominance in Europe and beyond. Its cornerstone is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. But disagreements over sharing the cost of maintaining military readiness have caused friction between the alliance's members in recent years. In 2014, the bloc agreed that each member state would increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective GDP over the next decade. But so far, only seven of 29 members have forked out the money. Here's a look at who pays what.