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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 12:06 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Daring Nato to act?

It is uncertain how the Serbian hand will be played out

By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

With the adjournment of the Kosovo peace talks in Paris, US and European diplomats appear to have few options short of resorting to Nato military action.

Nonetheless the military options facing Nato are by no means as clear cut as they might first appear.

Kosovo Section
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic appears to be daring Nato to act against him. It is impossible to say how seriously he takes the alliance's threat of air strikes.

But the evidence of his own military deployments suggests that he knows an attack may come and that he is working on a crisis strategy of his own.

Yugoslav forces have launched an offensive in Kosovo in recent days and troops and tanks have been reinforced around the province.

Additional troops have been deployed near the border with Macedonia.

Yugoslav air defences are being readied for action. And the signal Mr Milosevic is sending is that if Nato air strikes do come, then he will do whatever he can to defend his territory.

Politics of preparation

There is a political purpose behind these preparations as well. For they greatly complicate Nato's decision-making.

There is already a rumbling debate within the alliance on the scale and scope of any air strikes. Washington wants to hit hard and fast. The US believes that this is the only way to forestall a major Yugoslav ground offensive.

Sufficient damage must be done to encourage Yugoslav army commanders to go to Mr Milosevic and urge him to make a deal. Speed will also give less opportunity for Russian diplomacy to seek to muddy the water.

But many Nato governments are still hesitant, preferring more limited military action, at least in the first instance.

The US fears that anything short of a decisive blow could leave Nato in an ambiguous and messy position, unable to strike again and with little to show for its efforts.

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