Putin and Assad must one day be held accountable for Aleppo crimes
In this week's 'Desert Island Discs', the CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour speaks of her deep frustration during the darkest days of the Bosnian conflict at the West's inability - or unwillingness - to end the bloodshed.
She recalls how she even managed to rebuke former president Bill Clinton live on air over his failure to intervene in the stricken capital of Sarajevo, where Serb militias daily targeted the civilian population with shells and sniper rifles.
For those of us who covered that dreadful conflict in the Nineties, we had this awful sense that, no matter how many acts of pure evil the rival factions committed on the ground, there seemed no prospect that the conflict would ever end, or the perpetrators be brought to justice.
And I suspect many people today have a similar view of the Syrian conflict where, following the collapse of the short-lived ceasefire negotiated between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, the fighting has intensified, particularly around the besieged rebel stronghold of Aleppo.
Like Mr Clinton in Bosnia, President Barack Obama has little appetite for becoming too involved in Syria's complex civil war. And this chronic absence of Western leadership has encouraged the Russians, like the Serbs before them, to convince themselves that they, together with their pro-Assad allies in Damascus, can do very much as they please.
Consequently, we now see actions that can only be described as war crimes committed on an almost daily basis, as the Russians and pro-Assad forces deepen their assault on rebel forces. The indiscriminate use of barrel bombs by the regime on civilian targets is well documented. The main trauma hospital in Aleppo, for example, has been bombed three times in the past week.
The Russians are equally culpable. Cluster bombs and napalm - the use of which in civilian areas is proscribed under international law - are being used in Aleppo. They are also making good use of their TOS-1 MLRS thermobaric missiles, which were designed to repel mass infantry attacks, but are now being used randomly against Syrian civilians. The high-explosive warheads detonate in mid-air, and the force of the blast results in those who are not immediately incinerated being killed when the blast's intense pressure causes their lungs to collapse.
The Kremlin has sanctioned the use of such weapons because it believes it will never be held to account for such acts of barbarism. Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic had a similar mindset when they allowed their Serb militias to massacre an estimated 8,000 men and boys at the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in the summer of 1995.
There are those who argue the West could still bring a halt to the carnage around Aleppo simply by proclaiming the area to be a civilian safe haven, and daring the Russians to continue at their peril. Similar action was taken in Kosovo where, because Russia threatened to use its veto at the UN, Western powers took matters into their own hands to prevent another humanitarian disaster in the Balkans.
As Moscow has nothing but contempt for international law, then it can have no complaints when the rest of the world chooses to ignore its objections.
Such a response in Syria would certainly make Russian pilots think twice before callously bombing civilians. Russia's Sukhoi-24 warplanes can currently bomb their targets at will because they operate in uncontested air space.
But they would soon meet their match if they came up against the vastly superior American F-22 Stealth interceptor, which is now operating in the region.
I believe robust action of this nature is entirely feasible, even if it will have to wait until Mr Obama has vacated the White House. In the meantime, therefore, we should concentrate on collecting as much information as possible about those responsible for this mass slaughter of the innocents in Syria.
All the key players responsible for committing war crimes in Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkans were eventually brought to justice thanks to the painstaking work undertaken by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. As a result, war criminals like Karadzic are now serving lengthy jail sentences, which mean they will die behind bars.
In Syria, at the very least, we should be able to look forward to the day when all those responsible for the appalling suffering of the country's civilian population are brought to justice.
The International Criminal Tribunal on Syria might today seem a far cry, just as the prospect of justice in the Balkans seemed impossible to contemplate for Ms Amanpour and all the other journalists holed up in Sarajevo's Holiday Inn in the Nineties.
But if the West can summon the collective will to act, as it eventually did in Bosnia, then there is no reason why Assad, Putin and all the rest of those committing war crimes in Syria are not one day held to account for their despicable crimes. (© Daily Telegraph London)