NATO forces launched an offensive attack last week for the first time in the organization’s 50-year history. The attacks were designed to stop Serb forces from continuing the murderous treatment of their own citizens in Kosovo.
Several days of aerial bombings against targets in Serbia and Kosovo have yet to deter the Serbs from reportedly committing atrocities against Kosovo civilians. NATO now finds itself quickly approaching a critical crossroads: It will either continue an intensified air campaign with the possibility of sending in ground troops, or, if the bombings fail and the political will to send in troops is missing, it will pack up its bags and leave the area.
The air campaign has had mixed results. On one hand, NATO forces have suffered only one downed plane and, according to Pentagon reports, have degraded the Serbian military’s abilities. On the other hand, the air war has not stopped the Serbs from attacking Kosovo or forced them back to the negotiating table.
NATO leaders must decide what they want for Kosovo’s future. It can either become an independent nation, join with its ethnic brethren in Albania, remain in Yugoslavia as a highly autonomous region or remain under the guns and thumbs of the Belgrade thugs. Of those four choices, the best option is for Kosovo to remain within Yugoslavia, but with a great degree of autonomy.
NATO should warn President Slobodan Milosevic that it will continue and intensify the air campaign if he does not stop his aggression. If he fails to heed the warning, NATO must make good on its threats. NATO members boast the world’s best and most advanced military weaponry. It is time to put that weaponry to good use.
It is only after a prolonged air campaign that the question of sending ground troops into the area should be addressed. But for the sake of NATO’s credibility – as well as the lives of thousands of Kosovars – NATO cannot simply pack its bags and leave. NATO must not avert its eyes from genocide in its own backyard.