The Clinton administration would do well to rethink its blanket opposition to aid for Serbia and Montenegro. Yes, a blank check to the Milosevic regime would reward it for adhering to its nationalist agenda. But targeted aid, such as the European Union's plan to donate heating oil to cities controlled by opposition parties, would advance key U.S. foreign policy goals.

The United States seeks to oust Slobodan Milosevic. His removal is considered a prerequisite for the larger U.S. goal of fostering democratization and long-term peace in the Balkans. Once Milosevic is gone, the United States hopes, law-abiding democratic leaders will take his place.

How does a freezing and hungry Yugoslavia advance U.S. policy goals? Certainly Milosevic will not be hungry this winter. The idea is that the pain and suffering among the lowest strata of society will "trickle up" to the higher echelons. Protests by discontented citizens will lead to policy changes and perhaps even the removal of Milosevic.

The problem is that humans do not behave this way. Cold, dispirited citizens do not take to the streets. Rather, they draw up inside their own homes and try to survive. If the going gets too tough, they try to exit, often leaving the country. Only the few with hope continue to fight, and even they cannot persist for long when they are isolated from supportive networks.

The recent history of Yugoslavia is a textbook example of when people rebel. Ever since the war began in Bosnia, the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro have lived through winter after winter with inadequate heat and food. The thin voice of opposition could barely be heard. Most who could leave did so.

The winter the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro chose to rebel was that of 1996-97. Conditions were not the poorest at this point, but it was the time when people believed positive change could happen. As soon as their aspirations were deflated, the citizens retreated and were silent once more.

Haven't we learned that economic sanctions against Yugoslavia backfire? Milosevic's regime uses sanctions to garner popular support for a xenophobic platform and to generate intense anti-American hostility. Sanctions foster an anti-liberal, anti-democratic atmosphere in which the black market reigns supreme and the rule of law is nonexistent. These conditions feed self-serving nationalists and choke alternative voices.

Denial of emergency economic aid to Serbia is a form of sanction that rewards the leaders the United States has fought against and punishes the people it seeks to support. To ensure that it is advancing rather than hindering its foreign policy goals, the United States should make the following three adjustments in its practices:

First, the United States should quietly support the opposition. Helpful approaches include behind-the-scenes financial and technical contributions, economic support of democratic institutions and the independent media, and specific donations to cities run by opposition politicians (perhaps providing goods not offered through the EU plan). But the United States cannot wave its flag. Visible support of opposition leaders would only backfire, as it would give Milosevic's regime a pretext to label members of the opposition traitors.

Second, just as any aid should be targeted so that it benefits the opposition, remaining sanctions should be crafted so that they pain the regime, not the people. Good approaches include the freezing of assets of certain Serbian leaders and the travel ban imposed on individual supporters of Milosevic. These tactics should be continued and expanded.

Third, as an overarching policy, the United States should do what it can to raise the aspirations of the people of Serbia and Montenegro. Supporters of economic sanctions point out that they send signals of international condemnation of improper and illegal behavior. Carrots can similarly be used to send signals about international approval of support for human rights. For example, a school that includes human rights education in its curriculum could receive economic aid for school supplies. Along with small carrots today should come a promise of larger carrots tomorrow. The United States should urge international and regional bodies such as the World Bank and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to specify the precise steps that Yugoslavia must follow to gain full acceptance and support. Such actions will signal to people of Yugoslavia that a better future awaits them.

To fuel change in Serbia and Montenegro, the United States should foster hope, not despair.

The writer is a professor of international law at Ohio NorthernUniversity.