• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG

Viktor Orbán drops his objection to Sweden joining NATO, Trump’s New Hampshire win exposes his weakn͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
sunny Buenos Aires
thunderstorms Kyiv
cloudy Dubai
rotating globe
January 25, 2024


newsletter audience icon
Americas Morning Edition
Sign up for our free newsletters

The World Today

  1. Orbán open to Sweden bid
  2. Haley worries for Trump
  3. Strikes to protest Milei cuts
  4. South Africa’s Jews alarmed
  5. China EV slump hits lithium
  6. India aims for nuclear
  7. Climate hits migrant species
  8. Book reveals Ukraine errors
  9. Tall cars kill pedestrians
  10. Plastic-bag bans work

Texting with the U.S. ambassador to Britain about the perfect cup of tea, and a podcast investigates why Dubai’s princesses keep running away.


Orbán drops Sweden NATO objection

REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he would support Sweden’s bid to join NATO, a step towards breaking a months-long deadlock to expand the Western military alliance. Budapest was the last holdout after Turkey approved Sweden’s membership on Tuesday. Orbán told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Hungary’s Parliament would vote on the accession “at the first possible opportunity,” which would be when it reconvenes in mid-February. The move follows months of lobbying by Brussels and Washington: Sweden has been neutral since World War II, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine shifted its priorities. Finland, another traditionally neutral country and one with an 830-mile border with Russia, joined NATO last April. Discussions over Ukraine’s membership are expected to take much longer.


Trump’s concerns over Haley

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Nikki Haley won most of the independent voters in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary, heralding problems for Donald Trump should he go on to win the nomination. Trump has sailed through the early rounds of the U.S. Republican presidential race, and President Joe Biden faces concerns about his age — one pollster told The New York Times that he expected a “lesser-of-two-evils election” — but Trump’s problems with the wider electorate are underappreciated: Haley beat him among independents, high earners, and voters with college degrees. Haley looks set to stay in the race, Semafor’s Dave Weigel noted, comparing the Republicans’ quandary to one Democrats faced in 2016 when the party largely lined up behind Hillary Clinton but Bernie Sanders refused to quit.


Argentina protests against Milei cuts

REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Tens of thousands of people protested in Argentina against President Javier Milei’s proposed budget cuts. The country’s main labor union called a strike, and crowds gathered outside Parliament. Milei, a radical libertarian, has outlined sweeping cuts to public spending, removed some worker protections, and lifted various price controls since coming to power in December. The mass strike, just 45 days after the election, is the earliest in any Argentine government’s term. Inflation in Argentina topped 200% in 2023, and the country owes $44 billion to the International Monetary Fund, which welcomed Milei’s “shock therapy.” One of Milei’s ministers said on social media: “There is no strike that stops us, there is no threat that intimidates us.”


ICJ case alarms South African Jews

South Africa’s Jewish community is unnerved by the country bringing an International Court of Justice case against Israel. Pretoria alleges that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, with President Cyril Ramaphosa decrying an “apartheid type of brutal occupation.” The suit has revealed South Africa’s divisions: The Jewish captain of the under-19 national cricket team was removed after praising Israeli soldiers, despite being cleared of wrongdoing. Ramaphosa pledged to protect Jews from antisemitism, but Jews told the Financial Times that many are leaving. Jewish South Africans were central figures in the fight against apartheid, but their numbers have dropped 60% since the 1960s. At the ICJ, Israel attempted to rebut the genocide charges by declassifying secret orders, saying they showed efforts to avoid civilian deaths.


China’s EV slump hits lithium prices

REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

Global lithium prices dropped 80% year-on-year as China’s demand for electric vehicles slowed. A prior boom in EV sales led to many new lithium mining projects, notably in Australia, the source of 40% of the world’s supply. But that demand was heavily driven by China, which is now enduring an economic slump. Lithium topped $80,000 a ton in 2022 and 2023, but is now down to $13,000. Tesla boss Elon Musk also warned of an EV slowdown, saying growth would be “notably lower” this year than last: He also said that Chinese EV firms will “demolish most other car companies” by undercutting them if trade barriers are put up. China’s BYD overtook Tesla as the world’s biggest EV manufacturer late last year.


India bets on nuclear

India will “commission a new nuclear power reactor every year,” according to the chairman of the state nuclear company. B.C. Pathak told The Hindu that 19 reactors are under construction in India. It’s part of an ongoing drive for nuclear power, to boost electricity generation and meet decarbonization targets: Last year, the largest Indian-made reactor, Kakrapar-3, went online. Several countries agreed at COP28 to triple nuclear capacity by 2030, but Pathak said India already planned to, from 7,480 MW to 22,480 MW by 2031. By contrast, the U.S.’ first entirely new nuclear reactor in 30 years also started running last year, but, Canary Media reported, no one knows when the next one will be.


Climate change hits migratory species

Ashley Lee/Wikimedia Commons

Climate change is severely affecting migratory species, a U.N. report warned. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals said that there is “widespread evidence” of changes in migratory patterns, notably moves towards the poles, as the world warms. Many species’ migration to breeding grounds coincides with the arrival of prey species, and a mismatch in timing between the two endangers their survival. The report notes that many of the world’s most iconic species, including “whales, dolphins and marine turtles; elephants, large carnivores and antelopes; and a whole range of birds,” migrate, and migratory species are integral to the ecosystems they move between.


A lauded Russia-Ukraine book

A new eyewitness account of the Russia-Ukraine war is being passed around Washington as a handbook and a cautionary tale ahead of the second anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale invasion. In Our Enemies Will Vanish, The Wall Street Journal’s chief foreign-affairs correspondent — who grew up in Ukraine — recounts how even as NATO sent ammunition to Ukraine, Russia’s nuclear deterrent limited the West’s support: “The United States has a special obligation to avoid a nuclear war that would end all life on planet earth forever.” But those were empty threats, and Western hesitation may have cost Kyiv a chance to win the war in its early months, Yaroslav Trofimov argues.


Taller cars kill more pedestrians

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

Cars with higher hoods are much more likely to kill pedestrians. Research looking at 3,000 crashes on U.S. roads involving a single vehicle and a pedestrian found that about one in 12 collisions with normal cars and compact SUVs were fatal, compared with about one in eight for full-size SUVs and pickup trucks. Controlling for type of vehicle, the most important factor appeared to be the height of the front of the car: The author estimated that limiting hood height to 3 foot 7 inches would save 1,350 pedestrian lives a year. Pedestrian deaths have been going up — 2022 was the most deadly year on record for U.S. pedestrians — and, perhaps not coincidentally, cars have been getting bigger.


Plastic bag bans work

Syced/Wikimedia Commons

Restrictions on plastic bags do, at the very least, reduce the use of plastic bags. A new report looking at bans and other policies in U.S. cities found that they can reduce use by nearly 300 bags per person per year — in New Jersey alone, a ban reduced use by 5.5 billion bags annually. The U.S. has 500 citywide bans and 12 statewide ones, and many European countries have similar restrictions. Whether the bans are overall good for the environment is a more vexed question: Bags contribute heavily to plastic pollution, but critics of bans argue that reusable cotton bags need to be reused hundreds of times to offset the carbon used in making them.

  • France’s Constitutional Council is due to rule on a contentious immigration law that seeks to limit undocumented migrant arrivals.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Angola, the final stop in a four-country tour of West and Central Africa.
  • The City of Stardust, a dark fantasy debut by Georgia Summers, is released.
One Good Text

A U.S. chemist sparked a good-natured diplomatic row with Britain by suggesting that the “perfect” cup of tea should have salt. Flagship’s Senior Editor Prashant Rao asked the top U.S. diplomat in the U.K. her opinion on the subject.

REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi/File Photo

A new podcast series investigates why the daughters of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, have risked their lives to run away. Over four episodes, New Yorker staff writer Heidi Blake draws on thousands of pages of secret correspondence and previously unheard recordings to tell the story of these women, including that of Princess Latifa, who in 2018 tried to flee the country but was detained by commandos in a boat off India. The Runaway Princesses, The New Yorker’s first narrative-audio release, finds out what happened next, taking listeners “from the palaces of Dubai to the streets of London in a tale of startling courage and cruelty.”

Hot on Semafor