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Transnational Thursday for January 25, 2024

Transnational Thursday is a thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or international relations history. Feel free as well to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the wars in Israel or Ukraine, or even just whatever you’re reading.

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Finland: I haven't posted my news recaps here (now bimonthly instead of weekly), but they're still in my Substack. I've now posted a short overview of the presidential race and candidates, first round being on Sunday.

The Finnish president does not have as many duties as, say, the American president, but is not a completely unimportant figurehead, either. The president does have a status as a “values leader” to put forth their views on moral issues, though they are also supposed to be a national unifying figure, a democratically elected monarch. More importantly, they also represent Finland in foreign high-level meetings, such as the summit hosted by the current president Sauli Niinistö between Trump and Putin in Helsinki, 2018. I mean, that summit failed, but it was still a big opportunity for Finland!

In the recent times, the importance of the President is, if anything, heightened, as there’s a possibility the country might be at war within the next presidential term. Even though Finland would now be a part of a military alliance that would have joint command, the next President would assuredly have a role in keeping the nation together and promoting the Finnish cause abroad, Zelensky-style.

Since all the candidates have been playing it safe to present themselves as true successors to Niinistö, the race has been fairly bland. However, in the recent week or so, the race has been getting a bit of new electricity thanks to the rise of right-wing populist Jussi Halla-aho, one of the most notorious politicians in the country. It would be very unlikely to mean he becomes the president. His opponents fear that him even getting to the second round would bolster his anti-immigration, right-wing views in public debate. This has then led to new debates about tactical voting to prevent this, though it’s hard to say if this has led to anything beyond acrimony between other parties.

I then go through the candidates, starting with the minor ones and ending with the ones most likely to be the President.

The election came and went. Stubb and Haavisto, the main candidates in the polls, advanced to the next round. Halla-aho was left third, with a considerable gap to Haavisto.

The second round is in two weeks, and for the first time in my life, I'm seriously considering leaving an empty ballot. Not as a protest, but simply because this is the biggest Tweedledum and Tweedledee election I've seen in my lifetime; there's not much difference between the candidates expect in nuance (both are socially liberal, Atlanticist and Europhile), neither particularly causes me a feeling that I should vote for them, neither causes a feeling that I should vote for the other one to vote against them, neither causes much feelings at all.

On the other hand, this is probably the perfect state of politics to be in anyway...

In the recent times, the importance of the President is, if anything, heightened, as there’s a possibility the country might be at war within the next presidential term

Is this actually a considered a significant possibility in the zeitgeist? I'm aware that Putin has made bad-ish decisions in the recent past, but 'pick a fight with NATO over some not-particularly-attractive* real estate' seems a bit OTT?

*no offense, I love Finland -- but frankly I'm not sure Putin is enough of a fjord lover to be interested in the Nordics per-se

Finland doesn't have fjords. That's Norway.

The most likely scenario at this point would be a general NATO-Russia war, of course. in that case there would probably be some fighting in Finland, but it's very possible the biggest Finnish casualties would be among the troops sent to defend the Baltic states.

Finland doesn't have fjords

I blame the Russians!

One could also blame the Swedes, if the Swedes had been a bit more proactive in settling northern areas then the current Norwegian county of Finnmark, which has plenty of fjords, could now be a part of Finland.


There was a huge general strike on Wednesday against Milei’s reforms featuring tens of thousands of workers, some sources claiming as many as a hundred thousand, and it lasted for 12 hours:

The stoppage began at midday, and banks, gas stations, public administration, public health officials and trash collection were operating on a limited basis. Airports remained open, although state-owned airline Aerolineas Argentinas canceled 267 flights and rescheduled others, disrupting travel plans for more than 17,000 passengers.

Public transportation workers went on strike at 7 p.m. in Buenos Aires and surrounding areas, but had operated normally during the daytime to facilitate protesters’ access to and from the plaza in front of Congress.

By Wednesday afternoon, tens of thousands of protesters had flooded in. Héctor Daer, CGT’s secretary general, told the crowd from atop a stage that Milei’s decree “destroys individual rights of workers, collective rights and seeks to eliminate the possibility of union action at a time in which we have great inequality in society.”

As best as I can tell it seems to have gone okay, no economic calamity of police brutality that jumps out in the papers, but you can definitely expect more if any of his reforms make it through Congress. Speaking of which, Milei’s omnibus bill made it out of their equivalent of a congressional committee, which was its first hurdle, so it can now be voted on. But many members of JxC have reservations over different sections. Milei has moderated on a few details, including postponing the privatization of the state oil company YPF (this was a a campaign pledged of his but on polls privatization of the State Owned Enterprises in general is very unpopular, so many a reasonable point to moderate on). His dueling executive decree is tied up with like a bazillion lawsuits rn so that’s not moving any quicker than the legislative process.

There are obviously some state functions that are genuinely essential, or at least things that pretty much everyone wants, so I could see those having a meaningful impact. On the other hand, the idea of public health officials and other officious bureaucrats refusing to show up for work and expecting that this will move public opinion to their side is fairly hilarious from my generally economically libertarian perspective. Oh no, how could a restaurant possibly operate if we didn't have someone checking whether the milk was stored at the proper temperature? Surely this will result in thousands dead from food poisoning!

I would mostly expect this to demonstrate to the public that a lot of government jobs are people that are paid to annoy normal people.

There are obviously some state functions that are genuinely essential, or at least things that pretty much everyone wants, so I could see those having a meaningful impact.

One of the reforms Milei is trying to press through would actually make it harder for essential workers to strike at all, afaik currently there are no restrictions.

On the other hand, the idea of public health officials and other officious bureaucrats refusing to show up for work and expecting that this will move public opinion to their side is fairly hilarious from my generally economically libertarian perspective.

The standard move for these strikes used to be using all those non-working folks to block traffic and otherwise cause a ruckus, but Milei promised to arrest anyone who did that. Surprisingly, this seemingly hasn't led to any bad confrontations between the police and protestors.

Health inspections are genuinely important but the idea that a strike lasting 12 hours would be noticed by all but the most essential workers is farcical.


Mexico has filed a $10 billion lawsuit against gun manufacturers in the United States for aiding and abetting the cartels. Noa a circuit court has actually upheld their suit.

Mexico, in an attempt to challenge the reach of that law, sued six manufacturers in 2021, including Smith & Wesson, Glock and Ruger. It contended that the companies should be held liable for the trafficking of a half-million guns across the border a year, some of which were used in murders.

In September 2022, a Federal District Court judge threw out the suit, ruling that the law prohibits legal action brought by foreign governments.

But Judge William J. Kayatta Jr., an Obama appointee who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, writing for a unanimous majority, revived the lawsuit. The ruling said that plaintiffs had made a “plausible” argument that their case was “statutorily exempt” from the immunity shield…

About 70 to 90 percent of guns trafficked in Mexico originated in the United States, according to Everytown Law, the legal arm of the gun control group founded by the former mayor of New York Michael R. Bloomberg.

Previous suits to hold manufacturers responsible for gun violence have all fallen flat, so it’s a pretty major milestone that this is being heard at all, though it does seem unfair to Mexico if their own laws are being completely circumvented. The ruling will certainly be appealed now.

What have gun manufacturers have to do with illegal traffic of guns. Are they engaged in shipping the products over border.

Mexico is very much on the side of the USA blue tribe as far as gun control issues go because the Mexican government blames the purchase of civilian legal semi-automatic rifles as the key source of arms for the cartels, and ignores the cartels having access to massive amounts of weapons that aren't civilian legal in the US to avoid confronting its own corruption issues. We can expect them to periodically engage in normal American gun-control side antics like suing gun makers.

Now if weapons in Mexican military armories didn't tend to go missing and turn up in cartel hands, they might have a point. Banning AR-15s would have no effect on American gun deaths but if the Mexican army didn't sell weapons to its own primary opponents would probably meaningfully reduce cartel firepower.

I can see a case in Mexico suing United States. But not manufacturers.

I imagine nothing beyond making the weapons at all, as your comment implies.

Previous suits to hold manufacturers responsible for gun violence have all fallen flat, so it’s a pretty major milestone that this is being heard at all

It looks like they did some pretty blatant forum shopping. The first circuit has 11 judges and only 3 republican appointees, with the most recent being by George HW Bush.

The gun manufactures should be protected by both the foreign government issue, as well as a federal law immunizing gun manufacturers. The tactic lefty judges have been using lately is to just ignore those issues and let the lawsuit proceed. The SCOTUS doesn't take many cases and they get a bit lazy and think they can just review the whole case in the end.

The manufacturers will see a doomed trial with biased judges and settle. So the SCOTUS will never have a case to review.

That's what happened in the Remington lawsuit, Mexico is seeking to repeat.

though it does seem unfair to Mexico if their own laws are being completely circumvented

Perhaps they should invest in some sort of wall to reduce smuggling.


The war between the cartels and the government rages on. The Noboa Administration has now declared that they have arrested El Gringo, Carlos Arturo Landázuri Cortés, the leader of Oliver Sinisterra, a breakoff group of the Colombian FARC which is itself also involved in cocaine trafficking. He will be extradited to Colombia where it’ll be interesting to see how things go, given that President Petro is currently attempting to negotiate a peace deal with another FARC offshoot, FARC-EMC, and actually just extended their current ceasefire until July.

Noboa has also requested debt refinancing from the US and the EU and his Economy Minister will be having talks with American / European economic officials soon about the same. The US is likely willing and is currently sending officials to discuss more security cooperation. Noboa is also talking about extending a controversial gas drilling operation with was decisively rejected in a referendum, I think I actually covered it in the first ever TT post, before we had a name for it.

CNN has a few good videos and some coverage of the current crisis in Ecuador, probably more than other English language outlets.

Thanks, I'll check those out.


Malaysia has been going through a cycle of corruption cases against high level politicians. You’ve probably heard of the 1MBD scandal, an embezzlement operation of staggering proportions, with billions of dollars going up in smoke. The Prime minister at the time, who had pocketed several billion himself, was sentenced and sent to jail, but the environment afterwards created a kind of mini-hysteria against corruption, where real allegations were intermixed with candidates accusing their political rivals of corruption, and precious little to show for results:

In one of his first initiatives as Prime Minister, Anwar [bin Ibrahim] ordered a review of government projects approved by past administrations, describing the earlier decision processes as improper.

But the yearslong anti-corruption drive promised by different leaders has thus far resulted in many charges and few convictions.

This week [September 8, 2023], the Malaysian High Court agreed to drop 47 graft charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid, who’s also the president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO)—the same party that Najib had led until 2018. Zahid had been accused of criminal breach of trust, bribery, and money laundering related to a charity foundation he founded, and was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on Monday upon an unexpected request from prosecutors…

Zahid is just the latest in a string of politicians who have recently received favorable court decisions on corruption charges. Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who led the country from 2020 to 2021 and is now the chairman of the opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional, was charged with corruption in March, only to be similarly acquitted in August. And Najib himself was acquitted of tampering with a 1MDB audit report in March, though he is still serving a 12-year prison sentence for earlier graft convictions.

Despite dropping charges where it suits them, a few weeks ago they also charged a political rival, the finance minister of the previous party and ally of Mahatir Mohamed, Malaysia’s long time former Prime Minister, whose son is actually also under corruption charges. Yesterday Mahatir formally accused Anwar’s government of pursuing corruption charges solely for politically motivated reasons (perhaps a little ironically, because Mahatir previously charged Anwar with politically motivated sodomy charges).

Despite the lack of convictions, political analysts report that all the corruption charges are seriously deterring investors and choking off FDI, which is kind of the worst of both worlds. Anwar’s popularity has been flagging as he fails to address his central campaign promise of anti-corruption, while the Malay supremacist party grows in popularity in the polls. He’s overseen a cabinet reshuffle in hopes of glowing up his administration’s image.

Speaking at a televised press conference on Tuesday, Anwar appointed Amir Hamzah Azizan, formerly chief executive of Malaysia’s biggest pension fund, as second finance minister.

He also said he was moving Mohamad Hasan, the deputy president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), from the defence ministry to the foreign ministry. The former foreign minister takes on higher education instead.

Anwar also moved Fadillah Yusof, one of two deputy prime ministers, from commodities to the newly created post of energy transition and public utilities minister.

Veteran UMNO politician Johari Abdul Ghani was returned to cabinet to take on the commodities portfolio, while Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, popularly known as Dr Dzul, was named as health minister…

A survey published last month by the Merdeka Center, a local polling firm, found 60 percent of Malaysians felt the country was going in the wrong direction, with nearly four out of five identifying the economy as the nation’s biggest problem.

While there won’t be another general election until 2028, Anwar runs a coalition government that could certainly collapse if his popularity doesn’t pick up.

NATO Updates

Turkish parliament has finally signed off on Swedish ascension to NATO. I had worried if the recent flareup of attacks by the Kurdish Workers Party would derail things but the measure seems to have sailed through.

The legislators ratified Sweden’s accession protocol by 287 votes to 55, with four abstentions. It will come into effect after its publication in the Official Gazette, which is expected to be swift.

Which leaves only one holdout:

Hungary then becomes the only NATO ally not to have ratified Sweden’s accession…

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary has said it would not be the last to approve accession, although it was not clear when the Hungarian parliament intends to hold a vote.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced Tuesday that he sent a letter to his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, inviting him to Budapest to discuss Sweden’s entry into NATO.

Meanwhile, NATO has finally finalized a contract to continue supplying Ukraine with ammunition:

NATO signed on Tuesday a $1.2-billion contract to make tens of thousands of artillery rounds to replenish the dwindling stocks of its member countries as they supply ammunition to Ukraine to help it defeat Russia’s invasion.

The contract will allow for the purchase of 220,000 rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition, the most widely sought after artillery shell, according to NATO’s support and procurement agency. It will allow allies to backfill their arsenals and to provide Ukraine with more ammunition….

Ukraine was firing around 4,000 to 7,000 artillery shells each day last summer, while Russia was launching more than 20,000 shells daily in its neighbor’s territory, according to European Union estimates…

But the shells will not arrive quickly — delivery on orders takes anywhere from 24 to 36 months, the NATO agency said.

The European Union plans to produce 1 million artillery rounds for Ukraine have fallen short, with only about a third of the target met. Senior EU officials have said that they now expect the European defense industry to be producing around one million shells annually by the end of this year.

According to Reuters, Turkey got permission to buy F-16s in exchange for allowing Sweden to join NATO: “Ankara's delays had frustrated some of its Western allies and enabled it to extract some concessions. But Flake, who was envoy throughout the process, said Sweden addressed Turkey's "very legitimate security needs" in that time.”

I totally understand why things shook out this way--but I also think this will be interpreted, in Russian foreign policy circles, as evidence that some of the stuff Putin has been saying about NATO being a threat, is true. After all, this is letting a border country join NATO in exchange for selling fighter jets to yet another border country...there's a reason Russians think NATO is threatening their borders.


If something is confused why Russian neighbours decided to get into NATO as soon as possible and thinks that reason is NATO being aggressive against Russia...

Then they consumed far too much Russian propaganda or they are trolling.

in exchange for selling fighter jets to yet another border country...

If they do not want to be shot down by Turkey again I would recommend not flying their war planes without permission within Turkey.

there's a reason Russians think NATO is threatening their borders.

The reason is that Russia confused "blocking expansion of Russia when it is done by starting wars and invading other countries" with "NATO is threatening their borders".

There's nothing particularly unusual for Russian FoPo folks to react from the F-16 deal, they know Turkey is part of NATO and there's a long history of us selling them fighter jets and tens of billions worth of arms - the recent pause is more of an aberration.

It isn't just "Turkey is a NATO member". Turkey had been fighting proxy wars with Russia in Syria and Armenia-Azerbaijan (although Russia has now largely abandoned Armenia) and has been selling Bayraktar drones to Russia's enemies (rather famously including Ukraine) in large quantities.

Historically, the Ottoman Empire was the permanent hereditary enemy of Russia. As far as I can see Russia and Turkey have been friendly for about 30 years out of the last 500 (the 1920's and the immediate post-Cold War period).

Turkey have been friendly for about

count Napoleonic wars, too

I wanted to check that out, and it turned out to be harder than it looks - wikipedia lists the Ottoman Empire as fighting on both sides of the Napoleonic Wars! Russian-Ottoman relations during the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars are, appropriately, Byzantine. But they seem to be on the same (anti-French) side by accident from the time Napoleon invades Egypt in 1798 until the Ottomans attack Russia opportunistically in 1806. So add another 8 years if you count countries that happened to be fighting Napoleon at the same time for different reasons as "friendly".

Ethiopia and Somalia

“Could Ethiopia and Somalia go to war?” Al Jazeera asks with perhaps a little too much bluntness. Good question. Hopefully not, but Somalia has rejected arbitration, has turned back an Ethiopian plane attempting to land in Somaliland (which raises the question of how real any of this is sine Hargeisa doesn’t fully control their own airspace) and has certainly been rattling its saber as much as possible:

The Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud later stepped up the rhetoric saying: "We will defend our country, we will defend it by all means necessary and seek the support of any ally willing to help us."

He also called on youths "to prepare for the defence of our country".

The president has described Ethiopia as his country's "enemy".

"We have resisted their [Ethiopia's] invasion before. We defeated them before and we will again," he said on 12 January, according to state-owned broadcaster SNTV.

But Ethiopia dosn’t want to back down either; they’ve claimed for some time that access to the sea is an “existential” issue for them (the same claim they make about the GERD dam, though to be fair that kind of makes sense). Somalia has openly said “we are ready for war,” but it’s not clear they actually are - they’re stretched thin with Al Shabaab (ironically Ethiopian troops are one of the largest groups in the African Union peacekeeping force assisting them) and while Ethiopia is also dealing with various conflicts, its military is much larger and better practiced.

Keep in mind this is not the first time the two countries have gone to war, and a conflict is furthermore complicated by ethnic Somalis being one of the largest demographics in Ethiopia. They don’t all necessarily want to be part of Ethiopia but claims of discrimination from other Ethiopians are very common.

Egypt, overjoyed to find other countries that hate Ethiopia too, has been loudly crowing that they will back Egypt to the hilt. Turkey has offered their support too and Somalia claims Eritrea is on their side as well (though Afwerki has yet to publicly comment), while other neighboring countries have been mostly quiet thus far.


Rwanda is a well managed oasis in an unstable neighborhood, but has been rather poorly managing its relations with its neighbors. Tensions with the DRC are abysmal from the Rwandan support for the M23 rebels. Now Burundi, the country with which Rwanda shares its strongest cultural and political ties and once fought alongside in the Congo Wars, has accused Rwanda of supporting RED-Tabara, a violent terrorist group which may or may not have also been involved in a coup attempt. Burundi has closed its border with Rwanda and started expelling Rwandan citizens. I have no idea really how to evaluate whether these claims are true as Burundi has grown closer to DRC and may be pressured to oppose Rwanda, but RED-Tabara normally operates out of the same region in the DRC where M-23 does, and Rwanda definitely supports the latter, so it’s not that crazy to imagine.

Separately, the British-Rwandan plan to deport their extra immigrants has been delayed in the House of Lords until it can be demonstrated that Rwanda is safe. Their ruling isn’t binding but would place a court case against the law on stronger grounds.


The controversial issue of the day is the erection of a gigantic $200 million Hindu temple (in the context of a $3 billion glowup for the surrounding town) on what was previously a mosque built by Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire. The temple was razed by a Hindu nationalists mob in part of a larger riot that killed some 2000 people. Rebuilding a Hindu temple in its place has been a longtime Modi commitment and has been touted as a symbolic counter to European and Muslim colonization alike.

More than three decades after a mob of militant Hindu radicals razed a mosque to the ground in the Indian town of Ayodhya, the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has inaugurated the new Hindu temple that will stand in its place.

For some, the inauguration marks a hugely significant religious moment. Many Hindus believe Ayodhya to be the birthplace of the popular deity Lord Ram and the building of the temple, after over a century of disputes, has been heralded as Ram returning to his rightful place, and India freeing itself from the chains of past religious occupation.

Various people have said this is either a huge deal since it breaks with India’s secular founding and is openly anti-muslim, or not really a big deal at all since it’s been a BJP promise for a long time and secularism is always relative. So I figured I’d post it here and phone @self_made_human to make me sound more knowledgeable on the issue.

Ah, the Ram Mandir, the gift that keeps on giving.

TLDR: A centuries old mosque was declared, based off archaeological evidence (somewhat dubious, but I'm no expert) of an even more ancient Hindu temple, which has been seized upon as potentially being the site of a temple dedicated to Ram (avatar of a god, misogynist and GOAT in the other sense of the word), and said mosque has been demolished and a new temple consecrated.

Anyway, one can think of this an analogous to Trump's border wall, but of even less practical utility, but a good way for the BJP, our now dominant party, best described as a socially conservative, fiscally liberal, explicitly Hindu-nationalist (or behind a fig leaf that fell off ages ago, well before this "erection") to rally the voter base against the Accursed Muslims.

The worst of the unrest has been over well before this auspicious day, with much of the intervening time spent in lawfare, and finally the BJP, which is largely unchecked, getting its way.

I have not cared to follow recent developments in too much detail, but tbh nothing really happened (of late). The worst article of news I can recall is that Indian food delivery apps were voluntold to only deliver vegetarian food today, and butchers were closed (once again more out of fear rather than an official declaration),* but the Muslims and the opposition parties have been cowed (pun not intended) into submission. I'm sure there has been the odd demonstration or minor scuffle, but in general everyone opposed to the BJP has more or less resigned themselves to the inevitable.

The BJP has been having a great time, controlling the executive, legislature and judiciary even at the highest levels, and seem likely to win yet again. The Ram Mandir was more of a pure power play and fuck you move, rather than anything that affects the rest of India at large.

*In the states in Northern India that are their heartlands, I can get my biryani fix tonight, though I'm opting for waffles.

Thanks for the added context, much appreciated man.

You're welcome as always! I wish I could add more, but in this situation, no news is good news haha