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Andreas Kluth

In Conflicts From Ukraine to Taiwan, the West Needs a Strategy

To deter Russia and China, the U.S. and Europe can be clear or ambiguous, but never indecisive.

Just practicing, for now.

Just practicing, for now.

Photographer: Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

One of the subtlest tools in the diplomatic kit is the concept of strategic ambiguity. In the right circumstances, it can achieve more foreign-policy goals than strategic clarity, even preventing war. In the wrong situation, ambiguity can backfire and cause disaster. The question is which context currently applies to the standoffs in Ukraine and the Taiwan Strait.

In their own ways, China under President Xi Jinping and Russia under President Vladimir Putin have deftly been keeping their adversaries in check with deliberate ambiguity. By contrast, the West, from the U.S. to the European Union, has of late seemed ambiguous more by default than design. This must change.