The fact that the West has failed to make good on earlier threats to stop the Serbs, who began their offensive in the spring, has emboldened them. It has also raised suspicions that the West may have an ulterior motive. Are they giving President Slobodan Milosevic the leeway to hobble the separatist guerrilla forces in order to force the ethnic Albanian majority to give up on full independence and accept the form of autonomy favored by Washington? "That would be giving the U.S. too much Machiavellian credit," says Waller. "The reality is that Washington has been gridlocked over what to do in Kosovo. The urgency to act now is that tens of thousands of refugees could freeze to death with the arrival of winter."
NATO may be ratcheting up the threats, but military action is still some time away. "Once they've got commitments for the requisite military forces from member states, they have to make a political decision to attack," says TIME correspondent Douglas Waller. "That could still take weeks." And by then, the Serbs might have wrapped up their offensive against ethnic Albanian separatists.