The World’s Most Strategically Located Countries

Meziechi Nwogu
Dec 4, 2019 · 13 min read

The most strategically located countries are due to geography, regional /border influence, and access to vital trade routes.

As a result, some states are more fortunate than others. We have:

  • Choke-Point countries (Panama, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia-Singapore-Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Portugal) for their ability to control vital sea lanes.
  • Crossroads countries (Georgia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan) for their importance to land trade.
  • Not too isolated countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan)
  • Central countries (Germany, China, Denmark) are the most significant nations in essential neighborhoods.
  • Superpower-adjacent countries (India, Taiwan) since superpowers take particular interest in these countries.

Category A — Choke-point countries (Panama, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia-Singapore-Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Portugal).

Located between Colombia and Costa Rica, Panama serves as a critical choke-point for global trade.

Over 950,000 b/d of crude oil move through the canal per year. Goods from or moving to the US account for more than 70% of the total freight passing through the Panama Canal.

Substitutes to the Panama Canal include Cape Horn and the Straits of Magellan. However, these routes increase transit times by adding another 8,000 miles of travel.

Panama Strategic location

Positioned right at the center of Eurasia is Iran.

It shares its northern borders with three post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Its western borders are with Turkey and Iraq. To the east lie Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is probably one most strategically-located countries, correctly nicknamed the “Crossroads of the World.” Iran is a vital link to the Central Asian Republics, South Asia, and the Caucasus region.

The Strait of Hormuz, located between Oman and Iran, is the world’s most significant oil choke point. Over 20 million b/d flowed through the Strait of Hormuz in 2018, which is the equivalent of 30% of all seaborne-traded crude oil.

Over 80% of the crude oil that flows through this choke-point went to Asian markets like Japan, India, South Korea, and China. Crude oil flow via this strait originates mainly from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Iran, and Iraq.

Key geopolitical objectives: Defend its borders against external threats, and expand influence over the Persian Gulf by

  • Providing economic and military support to Shiites groups in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Iraq.
  • Maintaining strong relations with Turkey and Syria.

All these actions are necessary to buffer zones to protect their core.

Iran at the center of Eurasia

Situated in the Anatolian plateau of West Asia is Turkey.

As a result, it controls access to both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea via the Bosporus and Dardanelles strait.

Key geopolitical objectives: Project power southwards into the Middle East, westwards into Eastern Europe, and northward into the Black Sea and Caucasus region.

To achieve this, Turkey is

  • Improving relations with Russia.
  • Managing its relations with Iran, one of its principal competitors in the Middle East.
  • Improving relations with Israel, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus to explore oil and gas deposits along the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Turkey as a Land bridge spanning between Europe and Asia

In North-East Africa, along with the Red and the Mediterranean Sea, lies Egypt.

In the event of blockage of the Suez Canal, due to accident or warfare, vessels use alternate sea route, the Cape of Good Hope. However, diverting vessels around the Cape of Good Hope increases shipments from the Persian Gulf to Houston by 2,660 miles. Also, deliveries to Rotterdam will go up by 4,800 miles, and to Italy by 10,860 miles.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Defend the Suez Canal to ensure trade between Europe and Asia.
  • Develop new infrastructures beyond the Nile.
  • Maintain complex relations with Israel, Gulf states, Iran, and the West.
Egypt along the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea

Straddling the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea are Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The Strait of Malacca, located between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Crude Oil and LNG supply from the Middle East and Africa to China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea flow through this route.

Closure of the Strait of Malacca, due to accident or military action, vessels are rerouted to the Lombok and Sunda Straits. However, rerouting would add to shipping costs and affect energy prices.

Key geopolitical objective: Maintain strategic balance with the United States, India, and China, as geopolitics in the region shifts.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea

Across the heart of the Arabian Peninsula lies Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom borders three vital oil choke-points; the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb, and the Suez Canal.

Saudi Arabia possesses about 22% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves. Also, it is the largest crude oil exporter playing a leading role in OPEC.

Of the 30 million per day of crude oil exported daily by OPEC members in 2018, Saudi Arabia exported 8.4 million per day.

As global oil consumption continues to increase, Saudi Arabia will continuously play a dominant role in the Middle East.

On the religious front, Saudi Arabia is home to the two holiest cities of Islam; Mecca and Medina. Therefore, Saudi Arabia exercises a great deal of influence on most of the Muslim countries.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Ensure continuous oil supply to global markets.
  • Protect vital oil trade routes.
  • Influence the Sunni Islamic sect in the Arabian Peninsula.
Saudi Arabia at the heart of the Arabian Peninsula

On the Iberian Peninsula in South-West Europe is Spain and Portugal.

The Strait of Gibraltar divides Spain from Africa, which at its narrowest is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) wide. The Strait controls access to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic and separates Europe from Africa.

Both Spain and Portugal, to some extent, hold the ability to restrict access to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

Key geopolitical objectives: Secure economic prosperity by improving trade links with continental Europe, Africa, and South America.

Spain & Portugal along Iberia Peninsula

Category B — Crossroads countries (Georgia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Poland).

In the Caucasus region lies Georgia, the crossroad between Eastern Europe and West Asia.

Georgia is a transit country for oil and gas supplies from Central Asia to European countries. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline, which carries oil produced in Azerbaijan, flows through Georgia before reaching Turkey’s Ceyhan Port. From there, oil tankers load the crude oil and ship them to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Manage the separatist problem in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
  • Push for integration into NATO and the European Union.
  • Manage relations with Russia and its expanding influence in the Caucasus region.
Georgia, between Eastern Europe and West Asia.

At the heart of Central Asia is Kazakhstan.

It shares borders with China to the East; Russia to the North; Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan along its South; and the Caspian Sea to its West.

Kazakhstan is vital for crude oil supplies to China and Europe, and decreasing dependence on Russian and Middle Eastern supplies.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Maintain relations with its neighbors in Central Asia to prevent instability like drug trafficking and terrorism.
  • Manage relations with Russia, the West ( the United States & European Union), and China all vying for influence in the region.
Kazakhstan in Central Asia

At the crossroads between Central Asia and South Asia lies Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s position at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent led to invasions by external actors with diverse languages, cultures, and tribes (Pashtun, Tajiks, Turkmens, and Uzbeks).

Bordered by Iran on the West, Pakistan to the East, and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, & Tajikistan to the North, its importance is immense.

Also, it shares a tiny stretch of border with China in the North-East, the Wakhan Corridor.

Afghanistan is a crucial crossroads for trade with Central Asia, Russia, and Europe.

Key geopolitical objectives: maintain strong authority over the immense territory across the rugged landscape, diverse language, and ethnic tribes.

Afghanistan at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent

Along the nexus between Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia (Middle East) is Pakistan.

Central Asian countries depend on Pakistan for trade with India.

China depends on Pakistan to reduce shipping distance by thousands of miles from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

Already, China is constructing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. This corridor will run from Xinjiang in China to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. Highways, railways, oil and gas pipelines, and optic fiber networks will be established along the route.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Ensure border stability with India and Iran.
  • Maintain control of the Durand Line that runs through Balochistan, the North-West Frontier Province, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) / Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Durand line serves as a buffer zone against militants.
Pakistan — the nexus between Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia

At the crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe is Poland.

Poland has been fought over by the Russians, Prussians, and Austrian Empires. Poland did not regain independence until after World War I. Unfortunately, by 1939, Germany invaded and both Germany the Soviet divided up the country.

Its statehood was official in 1945, but it was dominated by the Soviets until 1989. Poland returned to the Western fold once the Soviet Union collapsed, with the country joining NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

The rise of Germany to the West and Russia to the East has proven devastating for Poland. The area that Poland occupies on the North European Plain is of essential geographical importance for troop deployment to defend Eastern Europe from Russia.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Maintain a strong presence in NATO and the European Union to keep Germany contained within them, and mitigate Russia’s influence in the region.
  • Bring in Ukraine closer to the West to serve as a potential buffer against Russia.
Poland between Western and Eastern Europe

Category C — not too isolated countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Cyprus).

Spanning from the Arctic Circle and Central Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic is the United States.

On the Pacific side, the US has many strategic allies; New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Many have US Military personnel and assets; South Korea, Japan, and Diego Garcia in the region.

On the Atlantic side, the US via NATO has cemented its strategic partnership with the European continent, with US troops stationed in Germany, Italy, Greenland, and Italy. Egypt and Morocco in North Africa have treaties with the US for economic and military cooperation.

Key geopolitical objectives: maintain its superpower status by building up vital allies to protect its overseas interests, and dominate Eurasia.

US Strategic location between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean

In Northwestern Europe is the United Kingdom.

The UK detachment from Continental Europe offers protection against a potential invasion from mainland Europe.

Britain control of Gibraltar and subsequently the Strait of Gibraltar. The Strait controls access to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic and separates Europe from Africa.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Manage the four constituent countries of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
  • Maintain dominance over the English Channel, the Celtic Sea, the Strait of Gibraltar, and the Irish Sea to ensure trade flows and national security.
United Kingdom Location

Along the Eastern Mediterranean Sea lies Cyprus.

Key geopolitical objectives: retain as much independence as possible by balancing relations with Greece, Turkey, and Israel.

Cyrus along the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Category D — Central countries (Germany, China, Denmark).

In Northern Europe and the North Atlantic is Denmark.

Denmark consists of two self-governing territories: Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The Skagerrak and Kattegat straits, under Danish control, are essential for access to the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean for trade by the Baltic States.

Key geopolitical objectives: Maintain strong relations with NATO to sustain control of the Skagerrak and Kattegat straits to monitor Russia’s military movements in Kaliningrad.

Denmark

Located in Central Europe is Germany.

Thus the country’s unique position connects Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Northern Europe, and Southern Europe.

Key geopolitical objectives: maintain its close diplomatic, economic, and military alliance with France to preserve peace and trade in the European peninsula.

Germany unique position in Central Europe

Between Russia, mainland Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia lie China.

China is vital for trade with South East Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos), India subcontinent (Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan), Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan), East Asia (South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan), and Russia’s far east.

Key geopolitical objectives:

  • Protect its heartland along the Yellow River, the Yangtze and the Pearl River.
  • Develop a blue water Navy to dominate the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea. The South China Sea and the Yellow Sea are trade routes crucial for China to export its products to Europe, Asia, and Africa without hindrance.
Between Russia, mainland Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia is China

Category E — Superpower-adjacent countries (Taiwan and India).

Along the West Pacific, with the Philippine Sea to the East, the East China Sea to the North, and the South China Sea to the South is Taiwan.

Taiwan’s crucial strategic position has made it a focal point of power struggles between China and the United States.

Taiwan is vital for China aim’s to dominate the South China Sea.

Control of Taiwan would open the way for China to dominate Northeast Asia. Also, once China consolidates its power of the South China Sea, its naval vessels can smoothly sail throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

Key geopolitical objectives: secure a maritime buffer against China, which is expanding its naval ambitions towards the East and South China seas.

Taiwan location

Strategically located between the Middle East and South-East/East Asia is India.

It bordered by Pakistan (North West), China (North), Nepal (Centre), Bhutan (North East), Bangladesh & Myanmar (East), and Sri Lanka in the South.

India controls the Indian Ocean. 70% of Asia’s oil and LNG needs flow through the Indian Ocean.

Key geopolitical objectives: develop extensive naval capabilities to defend its critical supply routes along the Indian Ocean against China.

Between the Middle East and South-East/East Asia is India

Bloomberg, The Financial Times, World Economic Forum, Washington Post, The Economist, The Daily Beast, Igazeuma Okoroba

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Meziechi Nwogu

Written by

Analyzing geopolitics, the global economy, and military affairs that impact our world.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade