By Chris Simmons
As the Collections Chief for NATO’s intelligence battalion, I ran the alliance’s “Human Intelligence” efforts, gathering information from people throughout Bosnia and Croatia. It was a target-rich environment and on a daily basis, we received information on local obstruction of the Dayton Peace Accords, refugee issues, war criminals, and terrorists.
“Bosnia” actually consisted of three distinct governments: a weak state-level institution (i.e., Bosnia) with two highly autonomous parts, the Croat-Bosniak Federation and the Serb-majority Republika Srpska (RS). Each entity had its own government, parliament and presidency. The redundancies were mind-numbing and hardliners made a game of finding new and creative ways to subvert the 1995 peace treaty which ended the three and a half-year war.
In one area, the local power company was led by Bosnian-Croat militants. These hardliners decided to upgrade the power to their faction’s neighborhoods and install power grids into newly-established Croat communities. Not surprisingly, this action was undertaken to the detriment of the local Serb and Bosniak enclaves.
Clearly, the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) had to respond or risk having hardliners from all three factions mimic this new form of obstruction. We could have used our authority to simply order the offending power company to cease and desist, but opted against it. The likelihood of success was low and would have required lots of manpower and daily supervision. Instead, we came up with our own highly-creative countermeasure.
Local support for the power company’s misconduct was minimal. The Bosnian-Croats wanted to move forward with the peace process, as did the other ethnic groups. We also knew that getting the local citizenry involved in ending the bad behavior would be more effective than any unilateral action SFOR could take. As such, we can up with a plan which would teach all three factions an important lesson.
We understood far too well the truth of the old adage, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men do nothing.” Local support wasn’t sufficient – we needed the citizenry to take action on the beliefs they held so strongly. So we offered an incentive. As co-authors Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner would later point out in their best-selling book Freakonomics, there are three forms of incentives:
– Moral: People don’t want to do something they believe to be wrong;
– Social: People don’t want to be seen doing something wrong;
– Economic: People want to avoid financial and property penalties.
We also knew the most successful behavior modification campaigns often involved all three incentive styles. As such, we went to the remaining local utility companies, which were run by the other factions, and had them suspend service to the Bosnian-Croat communities. We then spread the word throughout the area, encouraging everyone (not just the Bosnian-Croats) to contact the power company and its employees and ask them to comply with the peace accord. The overlapping incentives achieved immediate results. Additionally, as word spread throughout the country about our new community-based tactic, its success dissuaded all three ethnic groups from ever again attempting to use utilities as a weapon against one another.
Influencing people to do what you want is easier than one might imagine. This is especially true in scenarios like the one above, where the belief system of the targeted audience already overlapped with the message sender, i.e., SFOR. When starting from a point of shared interest, modest incentives are often sufficient to achieve the desired results.