Exodus: Structuring Redemption of Captives
64 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2012 Last revised: 5 Dec 2014
Date Written: November 22, 2012
The question of how to react to ransom demands in kidnap situations is ancient and persistent. It was asked as far back as Biblical times, and yet modern states have still not found answers. In terrorist kidnapping scenarios, the private victims, including the family, are often used as leverage to pressure the authorities, with the anticipation that the combination of public sympathy and private lobbying will result in excessive concessions. In the kidnap game, the victim’s family is a single-game player and thus operates under a completely different set of considerations than the repeat player: the state. The question is how the repeat player is able to resist the one-off appearance of a particular kidnap victim and the pressure to concede to terrorist demands. The problem is compounded by an inflation effect in that each concession becomes the baseline for the next. Predictably, democracies do not deal well with this issue, and they may find themselves in a vicious cycle where ransom demands are repeatedly raised and conceded to, creating greater incentives toward kidnapping.
This article identifies both why precommitment is the necessary solution to repeat kidnapping situations, and why it is a difficult solution to abide by. It argues that the world has so far tested only content-based precommitment strategies such as setting red-lines regarding what prices states will not pay. These policies have largely failed to constrain states’ concessions to terrorists. As an alternative, this article argues that states should adopt only structural-procedural precommitment policies, and explains how this may serve as an antidote to some of the pressure for escalation.
Keywords: Terrorist Kidnapping, Precommitment, Bargaining Power, Self-Entrenchment
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