The combination of more Nato aircraft entering the region and improved weather will make the next few weeks "pivotal if not decisive", say diplomatic sources in Brussels.
But as the alliance prepares to assemble a peace-keeping force of up to 50,000 for Kosovo, and is drawing up contingency plans for a fighting army of up to four times that size, Yugoslav forces are also preparing for a possible forced entry.
That will mean casualties among alliance troops if they have to fight their way in, Nato privately concedes. The total Serb troop and police deployment in Kosovo is now more than 40,000, with troops digging in and mining the borders with Albania and Macedonia.
General Clark, who addressed Nato ambassadors on Wednesday, promised to up the tempo of the air war against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo and strategic targets inside Serbia. Despite speculation that allied air crews have destroyed all obvious targets in Kosovo and are struggling to locate tanks, armoured personnel carriers and heavy artillery, the general insisted that was not the case.
Nato's military spokesman, General Walter Jertz, said that allied forces were confronted by a total of 33 surface-to-air missiles over a 24-hour period, including two that passed close to a Nato jet. But he argued that this could be a sign of desperation from Belgrade.
With the public debate over ground troops showing no signs of abating in the West, Nato is concerned for its unity if a decision has to be made, perhaps as soon as next month. "The consequences for Nato governments, particularly coalitions, and for Nato itself, mean it is far harder to get a consensus," a senior diplomat said.
A decision to deploy ground troops would alienate Russia. It would also mean the troops would enter Kosovo without aUnited Nations mandate. That would strain support of several Nato countries, including Italy and Germany, which have worked hard to draw the UN into the diplomatic process.Reuse content