Before NATO strikes, it would need to create a consensus for action among its 16 member countries, and remove the 700 unarmed Western monitors currently in Kosovo. Even then, Milosevic would likely follow his traditional strategy of backing down at the last minute -- only to renew his offensive later. "The problem here is political," says Thompson. "NATO is opposed to independence for Kosovo, and the compromise of a more limited 'autonomy' is difficult to achieve via military force." Particularly since neither side is interested in compromise.
Words don't scare Slobodan Milosevic -- which isn't surprising, since there's not much will to act behind NATO's tough talk. NATO moved warships into the region of Kosovo Wednesday after the alliance's top commanders were sent away empty-handed by Milosevic. But any military buildup right now is primarily symbolic, because NATO is not yet convinced of the wisdom of launching air strikes. "The military objective here is murky because Milosevic can easily ride out air strikes and then relaunch his offensive," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Besides, this is a civil war, and NATO is concerned not to get involved in a way that backs the interests of the KLA rebels."