When zombies attack…

…summon the political scientists and IR theorists.

Dan Drezner urges us all to take zombies seriously, (in an excerpt from a book due at the end of the year):

“For some international relations thinkers, the interest in all things ghoulish might represent an indirect attempt to get a cognitive grip on what former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once referred to as the “unknown unknowns” in international security. Or perhaps there exists a genuine if publicly unacknowledged fear of the dead rising from their graves and feasting upon our entrails…The Haitian government takes the threat seriously enough to have a law on the books to prevent outbreaks of zombiism. No great power has done the same publicly, but one can only speculate on what plans are being hatched behind closed doors…Looking at the state of international relations theory, one quickly realizes the absence of consensus about the best way to think about global politics”

The table of contents (regulating the undead in a liberal global order; the social construction of zombies; the second image: are all zombie politics local” and so on) would suggest that the book is a survey of how IR theories get applied to the zombie problem (rather than the war problem). With appetites for ‘applied IR’ having been whetted by Stephen Walt on the love problem, this really is spoiling us (ok, maybe just me).

What different paradigms of international relations bring to the table, however, may be less thought-provoking than at first glance. I am a Star Wars buff, rather than a vampire/zombie/mummy one, so I have to accept Drezner’s starting point defining the zombie problem as one where “Zombie stories end in one of two ways — the elimination/subjugation of all zombies, or the eradication of humanity from the face of the Earth.”

If the biology of zombies dictates a zero-sum game, as would seem to be the case, then all IR theories do is to try and offer arguments about how ‘we’ humans cooperate against the ‘other’ of the zombie threat. Does the neoconservative Global War on Zombies become the accepted policy response; can a liberal counterzombie regime form to provide a global public good; does the zombie threat get used as justified for intervention in other countries?

These questions (taken from Drezner’s excerpted examples) don’t seem to be radically different from the ones that we currently face about the prospects for cooperation on any global issue – terrorism, human trafficking, climate change, etc. The basic point is still to ask ‘can we cooperate with each other‘ in the face of this threat?

Far more intriguing to me is the challenge of cooperation with non-human life forms. A recent vivid example comes from District 9, where humans and aliens can and indeed cohabit, even if not on equal terms. The questions that subsequently arise, when we are not in a zero-sum, zombie-or-human universe, are more fascinating.

Can aliens be socialized into patterns of interaction that have evolved over time between states and human actors? What happens if you have no notion of property rights, or indeed any of the values that shape the phenomena of contemporary international life –  that great powers have rights as well as responsibilities, that liberal modes of economic exchange are the norm? How does ‘take me to your leader’ (in both human-alien directions) work in terms of the principle of sovereign equality?  How do common rules get set and disputes arbitrated?

In some ways this problem, rather than simply being about cooperation between humans, is more like a state-of-nature one. Humans have their patterns of behaviour, and how does this cope with the insertion of other life forms with different, but not rigid, patterns of behaviour? Can a shared human-alien society (and not just system) develop?

What happens when Alter faces Ego? (see Alexander Wendt, 1992, Anarchy is what states make of it)

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