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Warfare by consensus tests resolve of the West

Alliance is split on sending in ground troops and Russia may defy oil

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Like the Cadillacs and Lincolns in their motorcades, NATO leaders at this weekend's summit fell in line behind a Kosovo strategy that, at its core, remains unchanged from the beginning. It underscores the increasing difficulty of waging war by political consensus.

NATO leaders plan to broaden their bombing campaign - with resolve - and supplement it with increased economic and diplomatic pressure against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Those who believe that only ground troops can break Mr. Milosevic's hold on Kosovo are keenly disappointed. Those who fear a Vietnam-like quagmire are relieved. But even with this cautious approach, new problems loom. Russia is vowing to defy any oil embargo against Yugoslavia that NATO imposes, raising the prospect of conflicts at sea and deepening the rift between Moscow and the West.

"They've probably done the best they could do under the circumstances," says Stanley Sloan, a NATO expert here. Indeed, the summit showed the growing conflict between political imperative and military strategy that NATO leaders face in trying to maintain unity in the alliance. For instance, France and Britain can imagine eventually sending ground forces to clear the way for returning refugees - even without Milosevic's consent.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made that case - forcefully - to President Clinton, raising expectations that NATO would at a minimum acknowledge that a ground invasion is an option and at a maximum begin to order troops into position.

Heightening expectations, too, was the statement by NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on the eve of the summit that last October's contingency plans for ground troops would be dusted off and updated.

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