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NATO’s Ukraine Tightrope

While Ukrainian leaders were incensed by NATO’s reluctance to offer the country a clear path to membership, Western leaders’ cautious approach could reassure ordinary Russians that President Vladimir Putin's downfall would not mean their own. And that is the only way to liberate Ukraine without risking a nuclear conflict.

NEW YORK – Ukraine’s failure to secure an invitation to join NATO during the alliance’s annual summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, has disappointed many, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But although the summit’s concluding statement did not offer a definitive timetable for Ukrainian accession, it did demonstrate a degree of unity and strategic foresight that would have been impossible had Donald Trump still been president of the United States.

To be sure, NATO leaders’ promise to extend an official invitation to Ukraine “when Allies agree and conditions are met” was somewhat nebulous, and Zelensky, angered by the ambiguity, criticized the Western position as “unprecedented and absurd.” But US President Joe Biden was right to suggest that the war must end before Ukraine is allowed to join.

The fact is that NATO is a defense alliance. By definition, if one member is at war, all members are. Given the risks of a NATO-Russia war, not least the threat of nuclear escalation, Biden and NATO’s cautious approach is reassuring.