The peacekeepers in Kosovo can be under no illusions about the difficulty of their task. It could take years to establish a stable, democratic order that can stand without military and financial bolstering from abroad.
Look next door in Bosnia. Four years after the war ended there, international forces remain in place. Without them, conflict could easily resume. The tensions and animosities in Kosovo are at least comparable.
NATO's peacekeepers are witnessing those animosities as Albanians taunt fleeing Serbs, sniping incidents break out, and, most disturbing, armed men refuse to hand over their weapons. NATO has a mandate to "demilitarize" the Kosovo Liberation Army. KLA members have, however, shown a reluctance to part with their guns. NATO commanders will have to be alert and forceful to assure that those weapons are not turned to revenge. KLA manpower must be reoriented toward police duty, with training by international experts, and toward the vast work of rebuilding.
President Clinton has made it clear he expects the bulk of resources needed for that rebuilding to come from Europe. That's as it should be, since most of the military resources that brought NATO to this point came from the United States. But Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has emphasized long-range plans to stabilize all of the Balkans in order to hasten "a Europe without walls, fully at peace and wholly free." That implies persistent American involvement, and investment.
One immediate concern is the possibility of other ethnically based liberation movements in the area - Muslims in Serbia's Sandzak region or Hungarians in Vojvodina. Hard as it may be, the West will need to show it's serious about fostering stability in Serbia too - despite that country's now-indicted leader. To allow the Serbs to sink into a resentful nationalist stew would be dangerous.
Kosovo's lasting legacy should not be a raft of breakaway ethnic rebellions, but hard thinking about how to expand what British Prime Minister Tony Blair calls "moral intervention." The tragedy in Kosovo has been more than matched by the suffering in Sudan, Rwanda, and other places.
The clear need is for strengthened international security and diplomatic organizations in other parts of the globe. Then NATO's example of reversing a human rights catastrophe could be followed.