Once again, Nato is on the verge of unloosing bombs on Serbian positions as yet another deadline is reached. And once again Slobodan Milosovic is taking the allies to the wire and possibly beyond. This time we need to be doubly cautious before committing ourselves to an act of war.
Threats of bombing have worked in the past as a means of curbing Serbian aggression against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, as they did eventually in constraining Serbian massacres in Bosnia. But on this occasion the US is are waving the stick as a means of forcing a peace plan. It is by no means certain that the threats are as effective or as necessary. For a start, the rights and wrongs of the two sides are not as clear. The peace proposals worked out in Rambouillet have been rejected not just by the Serbs but also by the Albanians, who look as if they want to use Nato intervention not to achieve a settlement, but to pursue their own agenda of complete independence.
At the same time, the use of force, far from frightening Belgrade, is threatening to divide the allies. While the Americans seem gung-ho, the Europeans are much less enthusiastic about unleashing the bombers in the face of Russian opposition, without more specific sanction from the UN. Nor are even the British convinced that the bombing alone can achieve its purpose.
That, even at this 11th hour, is what the West needs to remember in this continuing crisis. The objective is the acceptance by two sides of a peace proposal to give Albanians autonomy while preserving Serbian territorial integrity. The threat of force may aid the negotiations. But if neither side really wants peace, then bombing won't help.