Leading article: Slowly but surely we are nearing a ground war

IS THIS "mission creep"? The famous phrase from the Vietnam war has come back to haunt the leaders of the post-Vietnam generation. Are we witnessing a gradual, irresistible extension of the war aims in the Balkans, the kind of ratchet mechanism that drew the US into a massive land war which no one intended? Or is it bluff? Is Mr Blair's incremental but definite tightening of the terms of engagement in Kosovo designed to frighten Slobodan Milosevic into suing for peace? Or - a third possibility - is a ground war what Tony Blair intended all along, but could not admit to because the Nato partners would not wear it?

There is no doubt that, as Thomas Sutcliffe, our parliamentary observer, put it this week, the Government is engaged in a game of Grandmother's footsteps. Every time Grandmother turns around, the prospect of ground troops being deployed against the Serbian army seems to have crept closer, and yet nobody will admit to having moved.

But moved they have. Mr Blair began the war by promising that "there is no question of Nato ground forces being sent in unless it is to police an agreed political settlement". Three days later, he said that forces could go in with the refugees in order to "lead them back into their homes in Kosovo". On Monday this week, the wording became more active: "There will be an international military force that will go in to secure the land for the people to whom it belongs." And in the Commons on Wednesday he said: "The difficulties of a land force invasion of Kosovo against an undegraded Serb military machine are formidable." So, while Nato troops will not fight their way into Kosovo, they may yet drive in against a degraded military machine.

Whatever the reasons for this slow, much-denied shift in British, American and - by next week probably - Nato policy, it is to be welcomed. The deployment of ground forces should have been planned and threatened a year ago, but it is none the less essential now.

However, our leaders should be taking Britain and its Nato allies into this thing without creeping around the point. Ambiguity is hardly the right way to mobilise public opinion. Nor should the peoples of Nato countries be soft-soaped about the consequences of setting up a protectorate in Kosovo against Serbia's will. Suggestions from Nato that troops will be able to drive into Kosovo without opposition from a bombed-out and demoralised Serb army are wishful thinking.

Milosevic, in his propaganda counter-strike yesterday, said: "When our soldiers are dying, they know why they are dying. They are dying for their homeland, for their fatherland. And for what will your soldiers die, 5,000 miles from home?" Well, they will be dying to put an end to "ethnic cleansing", for a democratic, peaceful Europe.

But to defeat Serbs fighting for their fatherland will require leadership. Fighting a war by multinational committee, which is what Nato is, requiring a consensus among 19 nations, demands tact and diplomacy. But, just as Mr Blair has insisted that Milosevic does not have a veto on Nato action, nor should Greece. The Greeks may be Nato's weakest link, sympathetic to the cause of their traditional ally, orthodox Christian Serbia, but they will not leave Nato. Fortunately, Milosevic has so far acted in such a way as to keep Nato together, while Russia is unwilling to move beyond its stance of bellicose neutrality.

Nato's leaders must give a lead to their peoples this weekend. Public opinion is less of a constraint on Mr Blair than on any of his fellow leaders, and he is under more of an obligation to come clean. He should prepare us for a ground war not by stealth, but by saying clearly that British lives will have to be risked at some time soon. And he should come to Parliament and win a vote for it.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine