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Strategic Significance

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Strategic Significance"

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I basically liked this New Atlanticist piece on Ukraine’s new president, but the inclusion of the phrase “[g]iven the country’s strategic significance” is one of my pet peeves. There seems to be a rule in American journalism that wherever it is you happen to be talking about has enormous strategic significance. I was joking earlier with a friend that maybe Namibia or Mozambique lacks strategic significance, but in fact back in the Cold War days the whole southern cone of Africa was somehow central to the battle against Communism.

I wouldn’t want to slight anyone and say that Chile or Chad or wherever doesn’t matter. Every country and every region is a beautiful unique snowflake, crucially important to the people who live there and to the specialists who work on it. But the idea of a given country being strategically significant only makes sense as a relative idea. Ukraine obviously lacks the significance of, say, Germany to say nothing of nuclear armed European powers like Russia, France, and the UK. And “fourth most important country in Europe” sounds like an overestimation to me. The fact of the matter is that Ukraine has been politically dominated by Moscow for the vast majority of the three hundred years since the Battle of Poltava and control of Ukraine has never made Russia mistress of the word.

At any rate, as a supplement to the next QDR I would appreciate it if the Pentagon would compile a “list of countries by strategic significance” for use by journalists and policy analysts. Or maybe instead of a rank-ordering, it would make more sense to divide the nations of the world up into a few broad categories. The point is that we can’t just wander around in confusion.

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