At least 185 people are currently held hostage by terrorists. Should we negotiate (and pay) or effectively condemn these people to years of captivity and possibly violent death?
If you are a brother, mother or otherwise related to a hostage your answer is likely to be “pay!”. If you’re wealthy you might embark on plans to bring the release about yourself.
If you are unrelated and learn about the terrible situation for a given hostage, you’re most likely to answer “no”. Of the many reasons given, these three takes the lions share:
- extortion attempts by terrorists, or anyone really, should be met with a firm no and backed up by adequate force. Going into negotiations with criminals demanding ransom should be used as a stall tactic while “other plans” are drawn up and brought to execution.
- paying is the worst that can be done since it provides resources to the enemy (sometimes considerable in size) that will then later be used in more crimes and eventually could end up killing or maiming many more than was freed be the ransom.
- paying will be an incitement to repeat the fund-raising experience and – since it cannot be kept secret – invite other criminal groups to try their hand too.
If you are in government things are quite a bit more complicated. A catch-22 situation really. You must be seen to stand strong against extortions and any other form of coercion attempts (so no negotiations and certainly no payments) but at the same time take measures to right the wrong. The trouble with that part is that in spite of all the military gadgetry available and barracks full of units with “special” somewhere in their designation, no commander can be found who says “it can be done” (without the need for body bags for the hostages or expensive “special” grunts)….
The terrorists, on the other hand, do not hold all the cards either. A dead hostage is worth zero. Less even, since there is a real risk of repercussions later on (Governments in this sort of situations have a very good memory – unlike when their members need help recalling their campaign promises). And there is this dastard issue of all them satellites and drones whizzing past overhead day and night. You also have to keep your excited young rebels from gang-raping any of the female assets because that would seriously degrade the negotiation position in future repeat actions.