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Modeling Hostage-Taking: On Reputation and Strategic Rationality of Terrorists

NCJ Number
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Volume: 31 Issue: 2 Dated: February 2008 Pages: 158-168
Heinrich Harald Nax
Date Published
February 2008
11 pages
This article examines hostage-taking from a game theoretic standpoint, arguing that game theory is helpful for analyzing the hostage-taking situation.
Game theory is the tool in the social science toolbox, which allows one to formally analyze instrumentally rational strategic choice. Taking of hostages is a strategic real-world phenomenon. Game theory should therefore have something to say about the strategic character of hostage-takings. The recommended non-negotiation strategy has been found ineffective. However, there is a paradox of contradiction between a game theoretic recommendation and empirical evidence leading to branches of the terrorism literature to suggest that game theory has little to contribute to the study of the hostage-taking situation. This article challenges this view and argues that game theory is indeed beneficial for analyzing the hostage-taking situation. A new framework suggests that the conclusion of irrational terrorists is largely unwarranted and it is assumed that terrorists are unboundedly rational. To this end, the article derives a two-stage game with two-sided incomplete information which is then formally analyzed in the article. Appendix, 19 notes