"Imperial policy" on hostages in Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium/Empire of Man universe

Inspired by this thread:

In Jerry Pournelle’s SF novel King David’s Spaceship, set in his CoDominium/Empire of Man universe, it is mentioned at one point that the Empire has a very definite policy regarding hostages: If you take one of our people hostage, we will not negotiate for his/her release. We will not mount any rescue attempts. We will consider the hostage officially dead, and any action we take will be in the form of a punitive expetition in retaliation.

Would that be workable? Would it effectively deter hostage-takers?

Even if it would, would it be a morally defensible policy?

It would act as a deterrent to rational people, but hostage takers aren’t necessarily rational. I’d object to the no rescue attempt policy, but not to non-negotiation or to punitive retaliation. Israel has a similar policy in effect today, I think…though they can and have mounted rescue operations in the past.

Thing is, you gotta remember that the Empire is a sprawling entity and it takes weeks and months for news to travel from one end to the other. If some hostages are taken in the ass end of the Empire a dozen jumps from Sparta and there aren’t any significant local forces to make a prompt response, it could be months before the Navy shows up. Given that context, the policy might seem somewhat more reasonable.

No. It is not only a politically indefensible position, it is an impractical one. It assumes that the hostage takers are acting with the goal to use the hostage as a bargaining chip or for ransom. They could just as easily be taking hostages to incite a government to overreact against some countries civilian population or to stir up political resentment within that government’s population. They might take hostages to inspire fear - don’t support the government or you could be taken hostages. Have hostage takers in Iraq offered up any demands that aren’t completely unreasonible?

Black and white ultimatums are generally a poor negotiation strategy on both sides.

From the hostage’s (and the hostage’s family’s) POV, I mean.

The point is that negotiating with kidnappers can encourage hostage taking. But how would rescuing hostages encourage hostage taking? I suppose you could argue that it’s not worth risking several additional casualties to attempt a rescue of one hostage. But if that were the logic, punitive expeditions would also be ruled out. This policy makes no sense.

I seem to recall that Heinlein’s Starship Troopers had almost the opposite philosophy. Their policy was to use whatever force necessary to recover hostages, even if it meant sacrificing a greater number of soldiers in the rescue operation than there were soldiers to be rescued (negotiation was not an option, as I recall). The rational, if I recall correctly, was that since each soldier knew that his side was this dedicated to him, he would be willing to fight all the harder.

It’s been about ten years since I read Starship Troopers, so I may have gotten some important details wrong.

But hostages and POWs are two different things.