Attributions for Superpower Interventions
Why did the United States drop hydrogen bombs on Japanese cities? Was the United States "forced" to do so by Japan's refusal to agree to unconditional surrender? Was it a typical, inhumane act by a cruel, callous, imperialist power?
Why did the same nation shower Western Europe with economic aid? Was the United States "forced" to do so in order to prop up Western European capitalism against impending socialist revolution? Was it a typical, generous act by a heroic, unselfish world leader?
Attribution biases in interpreting the behaviors of actors are rooted in, and help perpetuate, biased conceptions of those actors. If one thinks of the United States as good, then one will assume good, helpful behavior by the United States to be natural and voluntary; bad, harmful behavior will seem unnatural and it will be assumed that some outside influence forced the United States to do it.
In the context of international relations, attribution biases involve the simplification of complex international interactions in which the leaders of nations, in particular situations, direct their nations to act in particular ways. In general terms, the interaction between the nation and the situation yields the behavior. Were a nation to act in basically the same manner in all situations, then it would be reasonable to attribute all its actions to its nature. Were all nations to respond in the same general way to a certain sort of situation, then it would be fair to attribute their actions to situational forces.
Things are rarely so simple, and it is usually necessary to take both the nature of the nation and the pressures of the situation into account in accurately attributing causes to national behavior. It is typical, however, for humans to simplify things in order to understand, evaluate, and respond to complex realities. Not