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Washington Report, May 2011

by U.S. Asia Pacific Council

Washington Report

Publisher: Washington, DC: East-West Center in Washington, U.S. Asia Pacific Council
Publication Date: May 2011
Binding: electronic
Pages: 10
Free Download: PDF

 

It has been one month since the earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, which has caused the gravest crisis this country has faced since Wrold War II. The sheer magnitude of this natural disaster would challenge the governing capacity of most any nation. How is the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan faring?

Dr. Sheila A. Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations compares the response of the Kan government to the response of the government in 1995 to the Kobe earthquake. In human costs, the Tohoku earthquake was far more destructive than the Kobe quake. The tsunami defined this tragedy differently because the human toll of nearly 30,000 people confirmed dead or missing in comparison to only three people missing in Kobe. The most challenging aspect of this catastrophe has been management of the nuclear crisis. We should have been more sensitive to how our public discussion might undermine our ally's ability to manage a serious public safety issue.

The generally positive reaction in Japan to the US military's "Operation Tomodachi" appears to have further strengthened the foundation of the bilateral security relationship, despite tensions in recent years related to the relocation of US bases on Okinawa. Operation Tomodachi enabled an interesting marriage of both the global experience of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and the long-standing contingency planning of the US military and the SDF.

There might be greater tension between Japan's national and local governments, which could undermine their ability to integrate capacities as part of post-crisis response and recovery. The localities that are devastated have completely lost their governing capacities--literally, the people who populated the local govenments are gone as well as the fiscal infrasturcture, the support system, the communications systems. In these small municipalities along the hard-hit coastal areas there effectively is no local govenment. The prefectural governments have had to assume the primary role in crisis management. Japanese governors are talking about sharing responsiblity and being adequately prepared to deal with crises.

 

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