The Western alliance's commitment to achieving democracy in Yugoslavia in the aftermath of war must be as strong as the resolve exhibited during the bombing campaign. NATO forces expelled Serbian troops from Kosovo at great expense and loss of life. We must not now lose the opportunity to bring stability and democracy to the Balkans simply because we lack the attention span or the imagination to finish the job.

Democracy-building in Serbia is not a purely altruistic exercise. Without a democratically elected government in Belgrade that is supportive of peace, protective of individual freedoms and eager for the economic benefits of European citizenship, American troops could remain for many years in Kosovo and Bosnia. In addition, the United States will almost surely be called upon to expend financial and human resources again to help resolve new Balkan crises.

Despite the media's focus on wars, breakthrough negotiations or dramatic ultimatums, most foreign policy campaigns are won and lost with mundane and painstaking work before and after crises occur. The Western alliance can win the next Balkan war right now at very small expense by committing itself to Serbian democratization.

American support for the democratic opposition has been minimal because our government gave priority to securing Slobodan Milosevic's cooperation in solving the most recent crisis, which he had manufactured. Keeping our distance from the opposition was a price we paid for that collaboration. That left Milosevic free to plan the next crisis and free to close down the media, shut out the students and intimidate the democratic opposition. Even as we advocated democracy, market principles, independent media, human rights and the rule of law, our own policies toward the Yugoslav government perversely undercut progress in these areas.

Apart from the "Dump Milosevic" theme, the opposition is fragmented and lacks a coherent message. But it also lacks resources and firm support by the United States and the West. We should try to provide basic operating tools such as fax machines, telephones, gasoline, office space and office supplies. We should increase radio and television broadcasts to bring objective news coverage to the Serbian people through the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other international news programs. We should seek ways to strengthen the independent media as an antidote to state-run news sources that have facilitated the regime's disinformation. And we should make clear that substantial economic benefits from the West would follow a genuine embrace of democracy in Serbia.

Our assistance should be targeted to: the Alliance for Change, the most promising pro-democracy group; elected municipal leaders who oppose Milosevic; the rural areas, where Milosevic opposition is high; the beleaguered independent media: student groups; trade unions; and other groups committed to democratic change.

We should encourage the democratic opposition to create a common resource center through which foreign contributions could be channeled and prioritized.

The administration recently lifted legal restrictions on support for the Serbian opposition groups. The president announced in Sarajevo that $10 million will be available for democracy promotion in Yugoslavia. These funds are welcome, but long overdue. The sluggish government grant-making process could delay them for several months. That may be too late.

This is why the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), particularly the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), is so important. The NED and other NGOs can gain access to grass-roots leaders that government officials cannot easily obtain. They can respond far more quickly, often more effectively and at less expense than government agencies.

The NED group should immediately implement projects that were suspended during the bombing campaign, use unexpended democracy funds now in the pipeline, and devise new projects that can be implemented quickly. Meanwhile, the Agency for International Development and Department of State should relax time-consuming grant review and approval procedures. Incomplete aid proposals that arrive on time will help the democratic forces more than impeccably designed projects that arrive too late.

Having squandered a decade of opportunity for democracy building in Serbia, we should not now expect instant gratification. But Serbia has never been more ripe for change. Even without an independent media, the Kosovo debacle has provided irrefutable evidence to large segments of the Serbian people that the Milosevic approach is bankrupt. A focused and immediate democracy-building campaign can prevent the next Balkan crisis and bring hope to this troubled part of the world.

The writer, a senator from Indiana, is the senior Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees.