How does Slobodan Milosevic identify a terrorist? Apparently, he looks for farmers, peasant women, old men and 12-year-old boys. And how does he punish them? By gouging out their eyes, slashing their faces and cutting off their heads.

The atrocities Milosevic and his henchmen are committing in the Kosovo province rank among the most heinous committed in this century. The most recent slaughter, discovered this week in the village of Racak, is similar to the one last September in the Drenica region, in which 18 women, children and elderly people were mutilated while pleading for their lives.As the world watches, NATO faces what might be a defining moment for its future as a peacekeeping force. If it fails, the world will have little reason to believe that peace, or justice, soon would come to the region.

By some reports, Yugoslav officials readily admit that Serb police caused the killings because the victims were "terrorists" affiliated with the Kosovo Liberation Army, which is fighting for Albanian statehood. But then some government-controlled newspapers have denied Serb involvement and blamed the killings on Albanians, who they say staged the massacre to bring world condemnation on Serbia.

Incredibly, this has divided the United Nations Security Council, which condemned the killings but refrained from assigning blame. Russia, a close ally of the Serbs, has been most reluctant to criticize.

But assigning blame ought to be easy. Milosevic is the one who instigated the current crisis, exaggerating claims that the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo was terrorizing the ruling Serbs. He has waged an all-out campaign to expel the Albanians, inciting violence from the Kosovo Liberation Army. Now he is thumbing his nose at the West, blatantly violating the cease-fire agreement he signed last year.

Thank goodness William G. Walker, the man overseeing the peace mission in Kosovo, had the guts to call the killings a "crime against humanity" this week. For that, the Yugoslav government labeled him an "undesirable person" and gave him 48 hours to leave the country.

Some in Congress say military action by NATO would only encourage the Kosovo Liberation Army to step up its attacks against Serbs. But the lack of military action almost certainly would embolden Milosevic, who seems unfazed by anything less.

Milosevic still poses a danger to regional stability. Americans hate to use their troops to quell far-away disturbances, but without at least the credible threat of military force from NATO, the slaughter will continue. No one of good conscious ought to stand by and let that happen.