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Charles Kurzman, “The Disparaging Implications of Strategic Location,” July 31, 2019.

We can probably all agree that the Strait of Hormuz is strategically located — one sixth of the world’s oil production and one third of the world’s natural gas pass through its narrow shipping lanes. But what about Afghanistan (“strategically located on the map”), Algeria (“strategically situated on the rim of the Mediterranean Sea, gateway to the deep Sahara”), Andorra (“strategic location in between Spain and France”), Angola (“strategic location in southern Africa”), and Azerbaijan (“strategically located near Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq”)?

Much of the world has been labeled geographically important, including Eastern Europe (“a strategically important region”), the Horn of Africa (“strategically positioned at the major geopolitical and geo-economic nexus of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal”), Paraguay (“strategic location between Argentina and Brazil”), Peru (“strategically located on the west coast of South America”), and the United Arab Emirates (“strategically located on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula”).

Places on the way to other places are particularly strategic, including Sri Lanka (“strategically located in the Indian Ocean along major shipping routes across Asia”), Lombrum Naval Base in Papua New Guinea (“a strategically vital position overlooking key trade routes”), and Haiti (“very strategically located … because of its proximity to the U.S. (only 750 miles southeast of Miami), to important Caribbean sea lanes, and to communist Cuba”).

Places in between other places are strategic, too, such as Georgia (“strategically situated at the intersection of Europe and Asia”), Serbia (“an important strategic location … at the crossroads between Asia and Europe”), and Turkey (“strategically positioned at the crossroads of Europe and Asia”).

Of course, strategic location is in the eye of the beholder. Central Asia became “a critical strategic region” for the United States in the weeks after 9/11, when the region served as a base for the invasion of Afghanistan, but it had been “vital” for Russia for years. For the cocaine industry, strategic locations include all of the Caribbean and Central America, including the Bahamas (“strategically located on air and sea routes”), the Dominican Republic (“strategic geographic location as a major attraction to traffickers”), Guatemala (“strategic drug trafficking locations”) and Honduras (“a strategic transit nation”). For bird migration, most of the planet may be considered strategic.

So what locations are not strategic? Places that don’t get global attention, by definition, are not generally considered strategic. These are places that important people don’t care much about.

And important people themselves don’t live in strategic locations. The United States, for example, is not strategically located. Neither is China or Europe. Powerful places define the gravitational field of strategic locations — other locations have value in relation to them, not vice versa. Saying that the United States is strategically located between Canada and Mexico sounds like a spoof headline from The Onion, but saying that Canada or Mexico are strategically located in relation to the United States sounds like standard geopolitical analysis.

The concept of strategic location is used so often that we may forget its disparaging implications: calling a place strategic means not caring about it as an end in itself, but primarily as a means to other ends.