Based on the author’s personal work with the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Crisis Negotiation Unit, this paper defines “hostage negotiation,” examines the role of negotiation in relation to terrorist tactics, identifies barriers to negotiation in managing terrorist hostage-taking incidents, and offers recommendations for the peaceful resolution of hostage-taking incidents through negotiation.
“Hostage negotiation” is defined as “the use of dialogue to resolve a conflict in which a person or persons is being held and threatened in order to force a third party to do, or abstain from doing something in exchange for the safe release of the hostages.” Negotiation under such circumstances have the purposes of obtaining additional information and resources, gaining the release of the hostages, and buying time to assemble and prepare a tactical team that my be required by events to conduct a rescue attempt. Although the tactics of terrorists may change over time and from one planned attack to another, governments and counterterrorism planners should never assume that hostage-taking is a tactic of the past. Some barriers to effective hostage negotiation are the failure to provide realistic training for the kinds of incidents that may occur, the impulse to take immediate aggressive action against the perpetrators, basing negotiation on preconceived ideas about the behaviors and ideologies of the hostage-takers, and misinterpreting the behaviors of hostage-takers in the course of the incident. The proper management of a terrorist hostage siege requires close coordination between the principal components representing the authorities; however politicians should not be involved in the direct management of the response. This is a law enforcement function. The law enforcement incident commander should constantly consult with both the negotiation team leader and the tactical team leader.
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