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Despite its flaws, America is still the best bet

A top-level meeting of Nato in 1957. Bettmann/Getty

The big question at the Nato summit in Lithuania this week is whether Ukraine should be granted membership, says Hal Brands in Bloomberg. Advocates claim it would deter Russia from future territorial aggression; opponents think Vladimir Putin won’t stop fighting if he believes Kyiv is about to join the alliance. Those arguments aside, the very fact that the Ukrainians are “fighting and dying” to join the West reflects something fundamental about the differences between the world’s great powers. Russia and China are desperately trying, “sometimes violently”, to pull smaller nations into their respective orbits. “America often has its hands full keeping them out.”

The primary tools of Putin’s quarter-century effort to rebuild a Russian empire are “political meddling, strategic corruption and asymmetric trade flows”. When those don’t work, as they didn’t in Ukraine and Georgia, the Kremlin turns to violence. It’s the same with Xi Jinping’s China, which is aggressively claiming most of the South China Sea and East China Sea as its own, and contesting chunks of India “larger than some European countries”. This approach has alienated many of its neighbours, in particular Japan and India. Compare all this to the US, which has built an “informal empire” not through conquest, but “at the behest of smaller states”. Nato has vastly expanded as more nations have “sought inclusion in America’s sphere of influence”. These countries – Ukraine the latest – know the US is far from perfect. But they also realise that “the flaws of an American-led world seem modest compared to those of any other plausible order”.