We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages, and Ransom

In This Review

We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages, and Ransom
By Joel Simon
Columbia Global Reports, 2019
189 pp.

This excellent and careful book asks tough questions about whether and how governments should negotiate with kidnappers to get hostages released. Simon, who has worked for two decades at the Committee to Protect Journalists, challenges the view that paying ransoms simply creates incentives for more kidnapping. His detailed history of hostage taking includes case studies demonstrating the different approaches followed by such countries as France and Spain, which are prepared to do whatever it takes to free their citizens, and the United Kingdom and the United States, which generally refuse to negotiate and whose nationals are, therefore, more likely to be killed. Kidnappers’ motives vary: some crave publicity; others just want cash. Simon’s overall approach is pragmatic. In addition to arguing against a blanket refusal to negotiate, he addresses the value of publicity campaigns, the risks involved in rescue missions, the role of insurance companies and private negotiators, and how the ransoms actually get paid.

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