International Terrorism in the Contemporary World

By Marius H. Livingston; Lee Bruce Kress et al. | Go to book overview
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Hostage Survival

Of all the tactics used by political terrorists, kidnapping has probably been the most effective. During the past four years, as much as $80 million in ransoms for hostages have been collected in Latin America alone. Other returns also from kidnapping have been substantial: scores of prisoners have been released; governments have been embarrassed; relations between nations have been strained; and worldwide publicity for terrorist causes has been realized.

All this social disruption has been accomplished at relatively small cost to the perpetrators. About 80 percent of the terrorists involved in political kidnapping have gotten away unscathed, although the odds for success have diminished in several countries during the past year. Countermeasures are improving, but kidnapping remains a low-risk, high-return activity for many terrorist groups.

Further progress in dealing with the kidnap weapon depends in large measure upon improved antisubversion tactics by governments, still more effective protection of prime targets, increased international cooperation, and the elimination of terrorist safe-havens. Until more of these adjustments can be made, political kidnappings are likely to continue.

In the face of this threat, therefore, it has been necessary to take a look at the problem from the other end, that is, what can be done to help prepare a prospective kidnap victim and improve his chance of surviving the experience? To answer this question, a number of researchers have analyzed hostage-situations to see whether defense measures can be devised for vulnerable individuals—particularly international businessmen, diplomats, and military officers.

The result is interesting. Anyone with experience abroad might assume that cultural factors alone would create vastly different conditions for terrorist operations in different parts of the world. And to this fact must be added a multitude of other variables, such as the personality and temperament of the victim, the character of his captors, the nature of the terrorist cause, the immediate objective of the kidnapping, and the reaction of the authorities.

Indeed, the key question is whether hostage incidents are subject to so many diverse influences that each case must be considered basically unique. If so, any standard approach to the problem would appear nearly impossible. Any rules for hostage defense would then have to be so vague and qualified as to be practically useless.


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