Zombies in International Relations

What if the whole world, rather than just some remote hamlets populated by attractive young people with no future in movies, was attacked by zombies?  Daniel Drezner has addressed this question in Theories of International Politics and Zombies (Princeton University Press, 2010).  Drezner analyzes how a zombie apocalypse would be explained by political scientists.

“Realism” holds that conflict is normal as each country pursues its own advantage regardless of what happens to the rest of the world.  Countries can co-operate when they have a shared goal, but only so long as it takes to accomplish that goal and they are striving for individual advantage even when they are co-operating.  What happens inside another country is irrelevant to international relations.  Three of George Romero’s “Dead” movies illustrate this.  In “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), a zombie attack forces quarrelsome people to put aside their disputes and to co-operate.  However, selfish individualism constantly strains the need to co-operate.  Further problem arise from an imperfect understanding of events as they are under way.

In “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), zombies spread faster than can the government response, which always lags behind because of bureaucratic inertia, partisan political infighting, and the resistance of civil libertarians.  In a rip-off of Boccacio’s The Decameron, a handful of doomed survivors take refuge and indulge their worldly desires.  Their reverie is interrupted by an irruption of equally selfish barbarians.  In “Day of the Dead” (1985), a deluded bleeding heart liberal scientist hopes to reform the zombies by first understanding them.  His rival is a vicious, authoritarian Army officer.  People don’t have much of a choice once the crisis hits.

“Liberalism” holds that conflict is abnormal since countries naturally co-operate on matters of shared concern.  The more that “globalization” integrates the whole world into one system, the more co-operation will develop.  This co-operation takes the form of building international institutions and formulating rules of conduct.  From this perspective, one could anticipate the creation of a World Zombie Organization equivalent to the World Trade Organization or the International Monetary Fund.  The internal politics of a government do matter for international relations because governments that are oppressive at home tend to be aggressive abroad.  Unfortunately, humanitarian liberalism would probably produce countervailing groups that argued for comprehension and conciliation of the zombies.[2]  “28 Days Later” (2002),  “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) and “Zombieland” (2009) illustrate liberalism as people are awakened from their selfish individual pursuits by the appearance of danger and co-operate.  The end result is durable community.  In “Shaun,” even the outcome for the remaining zombies also is positive as they are allowed to survive by playing a constructive role in society.  (This is a metaphor for post-1945 Germany.)

“The George W. Bush Administration.”  Do you want to fight the zombies over there or over here?  Better to fight them there to stop them before the start to expand.  Use air power and special forces to the extent you can, but it may be best to invade the central home of the zombies.  Wipe out as many as you can until the others realize the error of their ways and change sides, becoming—I don’t know—Zuslims?  Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, “28 Weeks Later” (2007) is a good example of both the theory and of its unintended consequences: the failure to destroy the zombies in the original site followed by their flight into new areas as they seek sanctuary.


[2] People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies or Zombie Amnesty.  That sort of thing.  You could start a club.

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