Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Geopolitics of Zombies

The last several years have seen a remarkable resurgence in popularity of the zombie genre. No longer a feature exclusive to horror films zombies now infest a range of pop culture media. They are a staple of video games (the Resident Evil games being perhaps the best example), revisionist classic literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, e.g.), comic book spinoffs (Marvel Zombies), survival manuals for possible zombie outbreaks (Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide), TV (AMC's The Walking Dead, based on the Robert Kirkman graphic novels which I devoured in Afghanistan), and more. And in recognition of this surge in zombie interest May has been designated Zombie Awareness month by the Zombie Research Society. I thus feel compelled to post something on the topic before the month is out. Hence, this zombie infested post.

Now generally within the zombie corpus the focus tends to be centered around a group (or groups) of people and their singular attempts at survival and the impact this has on their humanity (the classic example being George Romero's Night of the Living Dead). Rarely, is there an attempt to exhibit how modern nation states would initially react to a zombie outbreak and the subsequent policies they might initiate to counter such a threat (a delightfully notable exception to this is Max Brooks' World War Z which displays a surprisingly good grasp of current world politics). And so it was a pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon Dr. Daniel Drezner's website (he also has a great blog) where I learned that he had written a monograph on just such a topic entitled, quite appropriately, Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

The book is of course written tongue in cheek, but Drezner approaches the subject from an academic standpoint even doing such scholarly things as first engaging with the relevant zombie literature and devoting a chapter to defining the boundaries of what constitutes a true zombie (in other words bringing clarity to the topic, something which every scholar must do before proceeding with the subject that they are treating). The principal thrust of the work is to examine how traditional International Relations concepts would treat a zombie apocalypse. For example, during a discussion about realpolitik Drezner theorizes that states that operate from this IR framework would essentially view a zombie outbreak as no different than plagues of the past. Therefore, they wouldn't perceive any real change in the international order and would continue to act as they typically do, i.e., based on their perceived national security interests. They would thus be disinclined towards doing such things as forming grand alliances with other states to tackle a zombie infestation especially if they believed it would be against their own self-interests to do so.

In fact, Drezner further speculates that it is quite likely some nations would manipulate a zombie outbreak to their advantage by using it as a means of achieving long sought after geopolitical objectives (e.g., China might accuse Taiwan of failing to control their zombie infestation using this as an excuse to then occupy the island thus cementing their historic desire of uniting Taiwan with the mainland). In contrast, a country that operates within a liberalist IR worldview would more likely perceive a zombie outbreak as a uniquely global threat to the international world order and so would seek to create a United Nations like organization to combat the world menace. However, a likely consequence of the liberal position would be the development of distracting debates about zombie rights which could then undermine any unified alliance against a zombie outbreak. In addition to realism and liberalism, Drezner also engages with other lesser known IR theories but I don't want to spoil the rest of the book so if your interest has been piqued by this post then buy his book now!

In short, it is a very enjoyable work being both a source of entertainment as well as an ingenious means of teaching basic IR theories to the uninitiated. It is a fun and pleasant addition to our ever increasing fascination with all things zombies. Alright, that's my meager contribution for Zombie Awareness Month. I'll close by leaving you with a scene from one of my favorite zombie spoof movies, Sean of the Dead. Enjoy.

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