U.S. foreign policy over the coming decade is likely to focus on the task of managing relations among a collection of tough, ambitious great powers that are determined to shift at least some of the global balance of power away from the United States. The list includes not just China and Russia but also countries like Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and India—emerging democracies and fully “responsible stakeholders” in the current system, but states that nonetheless demand a more prominent voice in its operations. Such a challenge is just what a realist would expect from an increasingly multipolar, and persistently competitive, world order. Yet it is important to realize just how novel a challenge it will be for the United States; there is no modern parallel to this sort of kaleidoscopic relationship management among a crowd of ambitious great powers.

The challenge offers two dominant, and opposing, dangers. One is that the United States underplays emerging rivalries, particularly with China and Russia, and fails to balance those two states’ regional ambitions. The other is that Washington, accustomed to running a world order of its own making, exaggerates the threat from China and Russia while growing increasingly resentful of the unwillingness of other leading powers to toe the U.S. line.

Thomas Graham’s recent TNI essay on managing relations with Russia is a welcome antidote to such extremes. He offers a nuanced way forward and sensible policy advice. He does raise one issue that deserves more discussion: the value of nesting U.S. policy toward Russia within a rules-based international order. For his part, Graham is pessimistic; integrating Russia into the Euro-Atlantic community is now “beyond reach,” he contends, because Russia is “sharpening its challenge to the U.S.-led world order.” To be sure, the prospect of Russia joining Euro-Atlantic institutions as a full-fledged member remains far off.