A radical group hijacks a passenger airplane. On board are high-ranking government officials and civilians from two countries. The terrorists’ demands in return for the release of the hostages are extreme. What’s more, there is only enough fuel in the tank to keep the plane air-bound for another two hours. The governments of the affected states are now under extreme time pressure to decide whether to negotiate with the terrorists, whether to try to meet the demands or whether to demonstrate resolve.
The consultations are being made more difficult by the mutual distrust of the two governments as well as by rivalries between departments and persons. The hijackers are in a separate room and are only communicating with the comrades “on the ground.” How do they deal with the pressure? The press report live and are constantly waiting for dramatic new turns of events to turn into dramatic headlines…
However, the basic question is: Should one enter negotiations with terrorists at all? That is the dilemma at the heart of this crisis situation, which has actually become more and more relevant in the face of the many kidnappings and executions of hostages in recent months.
If one enters official negotiations with the hijackers, one inadvertently supports their agenda by granting them legitimation. If one does not negotiate with them, a non-violent solution is close to impossible. Therefore, negotiations usually do take place, but in secret. The pressure is increased by the clock ticking (in our case, two hours is the limit before the fuel runs out) and by the press, who are hungry for dramatic headlines to deliver to an equally drama-hungry public. Single words can make a big difference here. To add insult to injury, the governments of the two states are not in agreement, and within each of both camps, there are animosities and disagreement as to how to deal with the situation, too.
It is always fascinating to observe how the participants deal with the dilemmas and contradictions of crisis management – there is no right or wrong in such situations, except that such important decisions must be made with a clear head.
Facts + Figures
Master students in Conflict Management at the American University of Paris
- Negotiating with “terrorists”?
- Negotiating under time pressure
- Negotiating on multiple levels
American University of Paris