Attack on Pearl Harbor: Effects of Foreign Policy Biases

Introduction

In order to comprehensively review the research framework within the past researches on the topic of effects of foreign policy biases, this part of the research project will concentrate on the past journal, books, and reports discussing the biases in foreign policy decision making and biases that may arise a result of groupthink phenomenon.

Research question and purpose

The research question is identifying the information processing errors in the U.S. foreign policy that led to the flawed decision making and subsequent Pearl Harbor attack. The purpose of the literature review is to establish the reasons behind information processing errors in the U.S. foreign policy that led to the infamous Pearl Harbor attack. This will provide a clear picture of the significance of a responsive and comprehensive foreign policy approach in handling situations with conflict of interest.

Cognition and the decision-making process

For instance, cognition is critically discussed by Lahneman (2006) as influencing in decision making among the policymakers. Specifically, the author notes that cognition is significant when interacting with “integrated culture across the intelligence community in order to provide the nation with the analytic outputs that the coming environment will require”[1]. From the report on analysis of future intelligence, Lahneman (2006) notes that the cognitive power may positively or negatively influence the actions and reactions of state agencies mandated with the role of making a sound judgment in the process of decision making.

Therefore, the “phenomena of global scope will increase as a result of aggregate human activities”[2]. When such human activities are confined to the wrong notion of the opponent, then the decision-making process may be marred by individual beliefs, which may not be in the best interest of the agency at the macro level. In relation to the views of Lahneman (2006), it is in order to state that there is a need to balance the element of consistency, the agency’s code of operations, and the scope of content examination in decision making. Generally, being an expert in intelligence analysis, the author provides an interesting focus on state agency and the challenges from non-cognitive agents through the compromised decision-making process. Reflectively, it is apparent that unbalanced cognition from a decision-making agent may result in biased decisions that negatively affect the state[3].

In order to balance the negative impact of individual cognition in the decision-making process at the state level, Treverton and Gabbard (2008) analyses the scope of the Genoa II model as comprising of “cognitive aids that allow humans and machines to ‘think together’ in real-time about complicated problems, means to overcome the biases and limitations of the human cognitive system, and cognitive amplifiers that help teams of people rapidly and fully comprehend complicated within hierarchical organizational structures by creating dynamic, adaptable, peer-to-peer collaborative networks”[4].

However, same as proposed by Lahneman (2006), there is a need to balance the above elements in order to accommodate group interests, personal cognition, and political dynamics, which are associated with biases in decision making.

Impact of groupthink in the decision-making process

As indicated by Cramer (1998), “the groupthink hypothesis remains an influential framework for understanding the origins of group decision-making fiascoes…the new evidence suggests that the groupthink hypothesis overstates the influence of small group dynamics, while understating the role political considerations played in these decisions”[5]. The author notes that the groupthink phenomenon is very real in all the political and social dispensations that have even operated in the U.S. Though appearing as hidden, Cramer (1998) confers that major decisions by state agencies are confined to the ideology of certain individuals in line with an ‘ingroup’ culture. By revisiting the three models of Alison’s groupthink theory, the author notes that the aspects of the rational actor, organizational process, and government politics play an active role in the decision making process.

Borrowing from the past research on the Bay of Pigs decision, Cramer (1998) concludes that “each of these decisions was a group product, issuing from a series of meetings of a small body of government officials and advisors who constituted a cohesive group”[6]. It is apparent that the three elements of the groupthink phenomenon played an active role in the above decision. Basically, the decision-making agency was denied independence for critical foresight. The decision was made based on Kennedy’s perceived political policy and not the interest of the state. It is in order to state that “self-censorship in a highly competitive bureaucracy is neither imprudent nor maladaptive”[7]. The views of Cramer (1998) justifies the impacts of the aspects of the rational actor, organizational process, and government politics in the decision-making process for government agencies mandated with the duty of making high-quality decisions.

Tenets of the U.S. Intelligence functioning

The operation of the U.S. intelligence analysis functions on the tenets of solving puzzles and framing mysteries. Despite the effectiveness of the intelligence institution in the U.S., concerns have been raised on the transition between information gathering and actual implementation. According to Treverton and Gabbard (2008),

“The overarching generality about the U.S. intelligence analytic community is that most of it are engaged in work that is tactical, operational, or current. By most accounts, the relative lack of longer-term analysis has long been bemoaned. In other words, most analytic resources and activities are dedicated to intelligence reporting instead of attempting to attain the “deep understanding” of our adversaries that constitutes analysis”[8].

As indicated by Treverton and Gabbard (2008), the process of intelligence analysis in the U.S. begins with military leaders and policymakers who are required by law to act in the best interest of the state. The views of this group are subjected to scrutiny to transform raw data into tight intelligence products that can be acted upon. The process is declared effective when “technical processing analysis, single discipline analysis, and all-source analysis”[9] interact.

As indicated by Treverton and Gabbard (2008), the intelligence-gathering process in the U.S. has been very successful in locating the raw data and designing the magnitude of the threat. The threat is sent to the decision agencies as recommendations, which should be reviewed further for authenticity. At this point, the decision-making process begins on the best cause of action against the intelligence gathered. During the decision-making process, individual cohesion and groupthink phenomenon may result in biases in the decision to act or not to act on the intelligence report[10].

As noted by Treverton and Gabbard, “the first stage of analysis involves all the initial manipulation of raw intelligence data that come in from various collection systems to make those data intelligible and useful”[11]. The biases in intelligence analysis and the decision-making process are identified by the authors as influenced by the ‘insider versus outsider’ insinuation. Those who perceive themselves as insiders may not employ critical and independent thinking in the process of decision making for fear of going against the insider culture. On the other hand, the suggestions by those considered as outsiders may be treated with a lot of malice simply because they are considered as belonging to the ‘outgroup’[12]. The need to show blind loyalty may, thus, lead to biases that cannot lead to high-quality decisions in the best interest of the state.

The possible biases in decision making that resulted in the Pearl Harbor attack

The main problems that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor are imbalances in the collection, management, and analysis of the intelligence data. It is important to note that “each defect is not uniquely attributed to the U.S. intelligence per se but is inherent to a cognitive and behavioral limit of human beings”[13]. Before the attack, there was open hostility between Japan and the U.S. due to conflicting trade and expansion interests. Japan took the position of an emerging powerhouse in Asia following its successful defeat of Russia in 1905.

As early as the year 1910, the U.S. was sure of an imminent war with Japan and drew a ‘War Plan Orange’ to counter the then Asian giant should a war occur. Besides, the outbreak of the First World War widens the conflict between the U.S. and Japan. In the course of the First World War, “America’s harsh policies and attitudes toward the Japanese further hurt the nation’s pride”[14]. There was little or no effort by either side to relieve the growing tension. As a result of “its few resources and a growing population, Japan sought to overcome its vulnerability to foreign economic pressures by forcefully expanding its economic sphere and living space”[15]. In the year 1939, the U.S. retracted its commercial agreement with the Asian giant and imposed heavy taxes on products exported to Japan. On the eve of the attack, the negotiation talks between the U.S. and Japan were based on mistrust, and each party was preparing for the worst should the talks collapse. Several high ranking U.S. officials were quoted as describing Japan as treacherous and unreliable. The possible reason why the U.S. agreed to engage in talks with Japan was to buy time for it to complete its military preparations[16].

The likelihood of an imminent war between Japan and the U.S. was affirmed by the strong intelligence reports on the Japanese plans. The four messages sent from Japan to its Washington embassy during the negation period suggested a possibility of an imminent attack. For instance, the messages of November 5th, 11th, 14th, and 26th was a clear indication of the advanced stage in planning for a possible attack of the U.S. On the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. was sure of a possible attack by the Japanese yet did very little to put in place strategies for defending the Japanese aggression[17].

Evaluation

There was a lot of lapse in the decision making among the senior officials who had the mandate of planning and defending the interest of the U.S. during the conflict with Japan before the Pearl Harbor attack. Many of these officials exercised continued prejudice, sectionalism, insensitivity, and a rigid group atmosphere in handling information on developments before the attack. For instance, the memoir sent to the president by General Marshall stated that;

“The Island of Oahu [the island on which Pearl Harbor is located], due to its fortification, its garrison, and its physical characteristics, is believed to be the strongest fortress in the world. With adequate air defense, enemy carriers, naval escorts, and transports will begin to come under air attack at a distance of approximately 750 miles. This attack will increase in intensity until within 200 miles of the objective, and the enemy forces will be subject to attack by all types of bombardment closely supported by our most modern pursuit… In addition, Hawaii is capable of reinforcement by heavy bombers from the mainland by air. With this force available, a major attack against Oahu is considered impracticable[18]”.

Although all the intelligence reports even suggested the possible target, negative cognition and groupthink phenomenon led to biases in the decision-making process. As a result, the U.S. was surprised by an attack that was previously dismissed by the highest-ranking member of the military. Inability to balance cognition and the urge to function within the groupthink’s ‘ingroup’ culture led to flaws in judgment in all quarters of intelligence gathering, analyzing, and implementation in the U.S. [19].

Research gap

The above literature does not cover the element of intelligence usage as a policy in international relations. Therefore, it is important to establish the link between policy inconsistencies in international relations in order to ensure that decisions made are consistent[20]. This research paper will attempt to fill the above research gap by studying the significance of intelligence as a policy framework in making decisions covering international relations.

Bibliography

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Cramer, Roderick. “Revisiting the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam Decisions 25 Years Later: How Well Has the Groupthink Hypothesis Stood the Test of Time?” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 73 no. 2 (1998), 236- 271.

Fiske, Susan, and Shelley Taylor. Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture. California, Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2013.

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Gregory Treverton and Bryan Gabbard, Assessing the tradecraft of intelligence analysis (Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2008), 13.

Gregory Treverton and Bryan Gabbard, Assessing the tradecraft of intelligence analysis (Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2008), 23.

Mark Schafer and Scott Crichlow, Groupthink vs. High-Quality Decision Making in International Relations (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010), 51.

Gregory Treverton and Bryan Gabbard, Assessing the tradecraft of intelligence analysis (Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2008), 13.

Thomas Preston and Paul start, “Understanding and Evaluating Bureaucratic Politics: The Nexus Between Political Leaders and Advisory Systems” Political Psychology 20 no. 1 (1999), 51.

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Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, 38.

David Moore, Critical Thinking and Intelligence Analysis (Washington, DC: National Defense Intelligence College, 2007), 13.

Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, 35.

Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, (California: Stanford University Press 1962), 51.

Susan, Fiske, and Shelley Taylor, Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture (California, Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2013), 23-29.

Minoru Genda, “Analysis No. 1 of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Operation A.I.,” edited by Donald M.Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside The Japanese Plans (Washington, DC: Brassey’s 1993), 11-89.