Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Japan’s year of resilience

Ian Bremmer
Feb 15, 2012 18:34 UTC

Almost a year on from a devastating earthquake and tsunami that left the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in its wake, it’s fair to say Japan has experienced a crisis unlike any other since the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War Two.

Over 13,000 people died from the quake, many from drowning. The final death toll, which will include those who were unable to receive proper medical care during the disaster, will be even higher. An estimated 100,000 children were uprooted from their homes after the quake, along with some 400,000 adults. And in the areas affected by fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, cleanup work is really just beginning. With all of this coming in the teeth of the global economic crisis and Japan’s national industrial slowdown, the densely populated main island of Japan has not seen anything like this in decades.

Now Japan has to contend with the fact that its primary power supply, nuclear energy, is effectively verboten in the country. How will it rebuild its power infrastructure when the very idea of a new nuclear power plant is dismissed nearly out of hand? How will it rebuild when its costs for construction have skyrocketed thanks to the setbacks its industries have faced this year? How will it continue taking care of the thousands who have yet to return home, many of whom are living in fallout zones and may never even have the option to do so? The challenges facing the country are serious.

Yet Japan’s response to tragedy has been nothing but remarkable. The Japanese are diligently rebuilding their infrastructure. That deserves our admiration. So does the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who reflected in public that he wasn’t meant to be a “shiny goldfish,” but rather a mudfish or catfish — a leader who gets down in the muck but gets the job done. To that end, Noda has mobilized the country’s military and his civilian bureaucracy in service of rebuilding, and is, based on conversations I have had, winning plaudits from Japan’s business community for his work.

In fact, Japan’s business leaders are more upbeat than I have seen them in years. That says several things about their state of mind in a world that has become accustomed to global shocks (whether oil spikes, natural disasters or unforeseen geopolitical events). Because we’re going to see much more instability in the years ahead, Japan knows it’s in a good position — it’s a country that prepares for the worst. Its economy focuses on quality and attention to detail, and Japanese society takes care of its young and old and has incredible longevity, even for a developed nation. Having just gone through a huge test, there is a sense of security among Japan’s leaders as its ability to withstand shocks has been proven.

The truth about Israel’s rumored strike on Iran

Ian Bremmer
Feb 9, 2012 17:39 UTC

At a time when President Obama has moved troops out of Iraq and is moving them out of Afghanistan, it’s looking increasingly like our worries in the Middle East are far from over. Maybe it’s not unprecedented, but it’s highly unusual for a sitting secretary of defense to worry in print (to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius) that Israel could launch a strike against Iran as early as this spring. The point of the Israeli attack, according to Ignatius and Panetta, would be to stop Iran before it begins building a nuclear bomb. The U.S. is saying that it would find such a move foolhardy, and yet also reassuring both the Israeli and American publics that it is committed to Israel’s security.

But it’s probably not Israel’s true intention to strike Iran anyway.

According to Ignatius and many others, the Israelis, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, believe that waiting for the U.S. to strike Iran is an unwise stance. That’s because the U.S.’s threshold for sufficient proof of a nearly finished or completed Iranian nuclear weapon is likely much higher than that of Israel. If such proof came to light, only the U.S. at that point would have the capacity to take out the leadership in Tehran singlehandedly. But such an operation would create a leadership vacuum and leave whoever was running Iran with the bomb. Right now, Israel feels that it can make a dent with its own operation, heading off Iran’s bomb-making before it becomes an issue only the U.S. can deal with. But the window for that option is rapidly closing.

Despite Panetta’s public warnings, and despite Israel’s sudden silence (which many are taking as a sign that it’s gearing up internally for such a mission as this one), an attack on Iran isn’t as likely to occur in the spring as Washington or Tel Aviv would have us believe. That’s because even though new U.S. sanctions on the country went into effect this week, the real test of Iran’s economic fortitude will come around July 1, when the European Union’s gradual introduction of a ban on oil from the country takes full effect. Unfortunately, even those sanctions are unlikely to do much to deter Iran, as India, China and African nations will likely continue to buy much of Iran’s oil production, and they will gain some concessions on price due to the artificially limited market. Nevertheless, Israel will presumably wait to see what happens.

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