“Kidnapping Politics”: Political Captivity and National Security in Japan, South Korea, Israel, Colombia, and Italy

Dr. Richard J. Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for International Studies is engaged in a new project called “Kidnapping Politics.” It entails a comparative study of how political captivity – for example, kidnapping, POWs, and hostage taking – stimulates political action that may redirect and even distort the foreign policies of states and their allies.  Since the forced deprivation of freedom to co-nationals is a direct assault on the assumption that states will maintain order and protect their citizens, political leaders who fail to react vigorously run an especially difficult gauntlet of public disapprobation and incur high political costs.  And yet, vigorous reaction - up to and including the use of force - may not be in the public interest. 

In this project, Professor Samuels explores the politics of captivity across a wide range of mass and elite political behavior in the United States and five of its democratic allies.  In three of these countries – Japan, South Korea, and Israel – the kidnappers crossed international borders.  Each ally is locked in an unequal and shifting relationship with the United States, each resides in a region of central concern to American diplomacy, and each has been seized by a “captivity passion” that has affected U.S. policy and regional politics alike.  In the other two cases – Colombia and Italy – the captivity passion involved enemies of the state who were home grown.  But here, too, the intense politics of captivity had far-reaching consequences for regional politics, bilateral relations, and U.S. foreign policy.  

Related Publications

 Richard J. Samuels, “Kidnapping Politics in East Asia,” Journal of East Asian Studies 10, no.3 (November 2010) (forthcoming).
Richard J. Samuels, “Holding Nations Hostage,” International Herald Tribune, July 29, 2010.

Dr. Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of MIT’s Center for International Studies, manages this project.