In the wake of the worst natural disaster to hit the nation of Japan in the at least the past 15 years, if not its entire history, there will no doubt be long-lasting effects. These shall run deep, not only as a result of the ultimate human & workforce tolls, but structurally and economically. As the world's current 3rd largest economy, behind China and then the U.S., these effects will undoubtedly course through the international community and may, in fact, prove to change the geopolitical spectrum of the world.
The Great Hanshin Earthquake (??·?????) of January 17, 1995 was the last major natural disaster to affect the nation of Japan. It cost the nation over six thousand citizens, major infrastructural damage to transportation and business, and nearly 2.5% of Japan's GDP at the time. Ten trillion yen, 102.5 billion dollars, was lost as a result of that beyond human control. Yet, the numbers have yet to stop rising for this most recent disaster.
Over 28,000 people have been reported “confirmed-dead or missing” according to the Japanese news by this date of April 1, 2011; exactly three weeks from the initial quake. Three-hundred thirty-six thousand people have been displaced by the various aftereffects of the 9.0 earthquake; without homes, jobs, schools, or survival resources readily available. According to NHK news, the Japanese government has directly inserted nearly 100 trillion yen, approx. 1 trillion dollars, into money markets so far, to stabilize business and assuage fears. Japan's Ministry of Finance sold 692.5 billion yen to stabilize the currency alone. And experts estimate the cost of the earthquake itself to be well over 25 trillion yen; approx. three times that of the Hanshin Earthquake.
Yet, the woes of the Great Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake (???????) reach further still. As an indirect result of the earthquake, which caused tsunamis of up to fifteen meters (45 feet) to completely decimate coastal cities along the northeast seaboard, one of the worst nuclear disasters in modern history has occurred approximately 180 kilometers from Tokyo. Radiation leakage has not only poisoned vast stretches of water, food, and soil of 13 million square kilometers of land, possibly making tens of kilometers uninhabitable for years, but has reached the capitol in measurable amounts high enough to be imminently dangerous to infants.
The results of this disaster can only be speculative as the final cost has yet to be calculated, however given the scale provided by past disasters it is no stretch to predict them as astronomically high. It is of my opinion that initially – due to the efforts of governments worldwide whom have already locked the yen currency within the world markets, as well as domestic governmental efforts to counteract the negative economic and societal effects – Japan's economic and political position will change very little. Domestically the government will increase jobs, provide incentives, and understate (if not falsify) economic damage, which will allow for a sharp economic incline after the initial decline. Further financial aid from the G7 and other foreign nations will allow for a continued trend of stability, at least from the world view. However, this will contrast greatly with the truth 'on the ground', so to speak. Several individuals whom I know personally are already reading the signs of bankruptcy that were actually becoming apparent last fiscal year, and have since become imminent in their eyes.
Geo-politically, in the short-term, this means very little. However, as the 'emergency situation' fades and the politics comes to the forefront once again, in the mid to long term, changes in geopolitical structure become more possible. Prior to this natural disaster, issues between the U.S. & Japan – such as the relocation of the military base in Okinawa – were already causing tension between the two governments. In point of fact, an indication of the strain could be gleaned from the fact that the U.S. Ambassador to Japan was removed one week before the disaster hit.
On the other side of Japan, ties with the Asian mainland have been strained since World War II. The Japanese government's insistence to include contentious information in school textbooks about the ownership of Takeshima island in affront to South Korea, even amidst a crisis, as well as their detention of a Chinese citizen picked up in international waters, paints a clear picture of the shaky ties holding these nations together at times. With the emergence of China as the second largest world economy, displacing Japan to 3rd, a regime change likely imminent in the unstable nation of North Korea, and re-negotiations of certain political matters with the U.S., there is a high probability of geopolitical maneuvering with Japan at the center.
It is in this way that the largest natural disaster in Japan's recent history may well prove to change the world economically and politically. In the wake of this disaster there is a high likelihood that not only will the nation need financial support but that their dependence on the international community – particularly on Saudi Arabia, China and the U.S. from whom they receive the most imports of food, oil, and natural resources – will define their role and decisions on a global scale. Depending on whom Japan is aided by least and most, as well as the results of the short & mid term developments in the Middle East, will determine the government's economic and political alliances of tomorrow.