Outrage is justified, but action founded on emotional impulses and nothing else - with no vision of what Nato and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) wish to achieve - will get nowhere. Worse, it could embroil our troops in an endless and thankless police action. OSCE monitors are already exposed to the threat of kidnap or even murder. No more men and women should be risked without the "endgame" that diplomats speak of so fondly but never seem to play.
One aim should be to secure justice for the slain. The murders are an affront to the embryonic system of world justice. Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian President, may have been able to bar Louise Arbour, the war crimes prosecutor, from Racak. He may secure the expulsion of the head of the OSCE verification mission in Kosovo. But the very fact that he thinks these people worthy of notice shows that he recognises their power and influence.
Ms Arbour has already secured a series of convictions in her court in The Hague. The Bosnian Serb war criminals, Radovan Karadic and General Ratko Mladic, are locked inside their puny enclave of Republica Serbska by fear of arrest. President Milosevic's record, hitherto spared investigation given his co-operation with the Dayton accord on Bosnia, should now be subjected to the closest scrutiny.
The more pressing dilemma is what to do in terms of military action. The history of Yugoslavia's wars since 1991 is one long demonstration that Serbia's radical nationalists will not yield unless they are staring military defeat in the face. Armed resistance freed Slovenia and Croatia; a string of Croatian victories, combined with Nato action, forced the Serbs to an agreement at Dayton. European foreign ministers, including Robin Cook, talked last October of "final warnings" and secured a ceasefire. Nato generals have now been dispatched to Belgrade to warn that military operation orders have not been rescinded since last year's crises, and can be activated at any time. At least this is an improvement on the West's craven behaviour over Bosnia, though we must hope that the threat of force is being made explicit.
However, we must have a vision of what force will achieve. It seems that nothing can salvage Kosovo's status as an integral part of Serbia. But immediate independence, secured by military force, is no more of an option. It would involve full-scale war with Serbia, an unpopular option in the West. It would destabilise the whole Balkan region, with Albanian populations in northern Greece and Macedonia encouraged to pursue separatist demands. Greece, fretting over the status of the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia, would never allow it.
If we do not wish to see more innocent people die, the only solution is to intervene in force to secure the separation of the combatants and to hope that negotiation is forced by the stalemate. The "observers" will have to be armed and backed with ground troops; if possible nations such as Russia, traditionally sympathetic to Serbia, and Germany should be involved. If, in the long run, the people of Kosovo wish to join their brethren in Albania, then so be it. On the other hand, a more democratic Serbia could emerge, shorn of its present leadership, allowing Kosovo to retain some relationship with its powerful neighbour. That is for those most directly involved to decide - but we can at least give them the time and the chance to negotiate.Reuse content