Earlier this year, President Clinton gave an emotional speech in Africa about how the world had turned its back on the slaughter in Rwanda. He was repeating a theme heard often in this century, including five years ago after thousands died in Bosnia. The world has often turned its back on genocide only to react later with regret and newfound resolve.

Now the world has another chance. Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic is slaughtering Albanians in the province of Kosovo. Already, more than 250 people are dead. Thousands have been forced to flee to the mountains - most of them with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Children have been separated from parents. Suffering abounds. And yet the world so far has done nothing.NATO's response has been to carry out military exercises over Albania and Macedonia. The idea is to show Milosevic that the allies mean business and to persuade him to stop killing and start negotiating. As a strategy, this is silly and useless. Ruthless dictators don't voluntarily relinquish power in the face of a show of force. Milosevic, like Saddam Hussein and any other tyrant in history, won't budge until forced.

At the moment, NATO is hesitating because Russia, a long-time ally of the Serbs, does not support force. But the longer the world waits, the more people die. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said little time remains for finding a peaceful solution. He is right.

As much as the civilized world likes to talk about it, human rights never seem to serve as a great rallying cry when atrocities are happening. But in this case, there are greater reasons for concern. This conflict easily could spread throughout a tense ethnic region that includes neighboring states. If that happens, the world would have a much larger and more destabilizing problem on its hands.

Certainly, every measure short of military action ought to be exhausted. But time is running out on the 1.8 million Albanians in Kosovo. The world can't afford another slaughter that one day causes leaders to wring their hands and promise "never again."