Nuclear power has allowed resource-weak Japan to move away from oil and achieve a measure of energy independence in recent decades. Now, the nation faces a mental pivot point amid a worsening nuclear crisis at home and growing insecurities in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, according to geopolitical strategist George Friedman.
The nation's very place as the world's No. 3 economy appears at stake.
"This was no ordinary earthquake in magnitude or in the potential impact on Japan’s view of the world. The earthquake shook a lot of pieces loose, not the least of which were in the Japanese psyche," Mr. Friedman wrote Tuesday in a briefing for the Texas-based intelligence consulting firm STRATFOR, which he heads.
Japan imports nearly 100 percent of its oil, unlike most other big economies that have access to domestic reserves.
To decrease imports from the volatile Middle East and also minimize carbon emissions from fossil fuels, Japan had increased nuclear power to 30 percent of its total energy supply today.
The wisdom in that is now being questioned amid a worsening crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Authorities said Wednesday that a containment vessel in a second reactor unit might have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam.
"The destruction of a series of nuclear reactors not only creates energy shortages and fear of radiation; it also drives home the profound and very real vulnerability underlying all of Japan’s success. Japan does not control the source of its oil, it does not control the sea lanes over which coal and other minerals travel, and it cannot be certain that its nuclear reactors will not suddenly be destroyed. To the extent that economics and politics are psychological, this is a huge blow," Friedman writes.
What will Japan do? "Recalculate," says Friedman, author of bestsellers "The Next 100 Years" and "The Next Decade" that forecast future geopolitical transitions. Friedman suggests Japan may assert itself more to protect its oil supply lines, a source of growing concern if the country moves away from nuclear power.
Japan is not the only nation seeing a shift in thinking – but while Japan's new mindset is a response to events, in the Middle East a new mindset has sparked recent events, challenging authoritarian governments and ousting dictatorial leaders.
"History is littered with such great moments of rapid shifts in mass psychology – the 'aha' moments that shatter paradigms, pierce groupthink, and, most of all, leave people scratching their heads over why they once believed what had seemed so real," the Monitor's Clayton Jones writes in "The slap heard round the world."