The Personal Face of International Tension: Hostage Diplomacy and Russia’s War in Ukraine


Josef Stalin is supposed to have said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million men is a statistic.” While Stalin seemed to take that principle as an exhortation to commit crimes so vast that they could only be comprehended as statistics, the saying also suggests that something that seems abstract when it is happening to thousands of people we don’t know may assume urgency when it takes on a human face. The case of WNBA Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Moscow since February 17 may be a case in point.  While we know relatively little about Griner’s arrest and detention, there is a long history of states arresting foreign citizens and putting them on trial as a way of obtaining concessions from the parent state of the detainee. In Vol 5/Iss 1 of the Texas National Security Review, Professor Danielle Gilbert and Gaëlle Rivard-Piche discuss this phenomenon of “hostage diplomacy” in the context of the so-called two Michaels case involving China, Canada, and the United States in their article Caught Between Giants: Hostage Diplomacy and Negotiation Strategy for Middle Powers. In this week’s episode of Horns of a Dilemma, Professor Gilbert joins TNSR Executive Editor Doyle Hodges to talk about the article, the concept of hostage diplomacy, and whether or how it may be at work in tensions between Russia and the West arising from Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine.

Image: Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons