02 December 2010

Perceptions and Misperceptions and Zombies

I went to Foggy Bottom today to see Daniel Drezner's presentation about his forthcoming Princeton University Press (February 2011) book, Theories of International Politics and Zombies. The talk was phenomenal and the book looks like it will be a great teaching tool; the atmosphere was somewhere between a comedy club and an MC Frontalot concert.

Drezner's Foreign Policy article covers the essentials of his presentation, although if you can you should see it live. (So to speak.) The discussion was equal parts nerd-fest and theoretical disputation; Dan Nexon, the chief critic of Drezner's IR zombies approach, pointed out that Drezner suffered from a "vitalist" perspective that blinded him to the post-zombie world's problematization of the hitherto binary life/death category. (He also noted that the COW dataset will have a problem in coding armed conflicts between humans and zombies, since it requires 1,000 battle deaths.)

Drezner and Nexon have staked out the ground for productive debates. But there's still more to be said about IR and zombies. For instance:
  • Buck passing. There are two ways in which states could choose to buck-pass. The first are small powers, which could simply choose to let great powers shoulder the burden of resisting the menace. This, as Drezner points out, could lead to great-power intervention--but the strain of regime change in addition to zombie-nuking might be too great. (In fact, compellence might instead take the form of warning potential buffer states that they are to be turned into cordon sanitaires.) The second is that great powers may choose to postpone their own interventions until the hegemon or some other k-group chooses to act in order to safeguard their own interests.
  • Zombie gerrymandering. Why not selectively exclude troublesome populations (or voting blocs) from counter-zombie efforts? A Republican president, for instance, might choose to draw the defensive lines at red-state borders instead of the national borders. (Democrats would be too wussy to do this.) Of course, the U.S. constitution is silent on how to handle the congressional seats that would be elected by voters in undead-held lands. But a dictator (a Stalin or a Kim) might be quite happy to see rebellious provinces subjugated by the zombie menace, which would allow them a twofer of both eliminating domestic opposition and having the U.S. foot the bill for cleanup.
  • Religious reformations. There would be millions of undead wandering the earth. Certainly, if religion matters in IR, this would be an event that would make it salient.
  • Post-bailout fatigue. Contra Drezner, zombie protection is not a public good; it is a classic private good. (Want to exclude someone? Just don't send the Marines.) So why should we expect to see states with varying preferences choosing to protect each other? Sure, there may be some constructivists who believe the "West" will stick together, but recent experiences in the much more thickly constructed European Union demonstrate that even "good international citizens" like Germany are unwilling to provide bailouts for, say, Portugal. Would a GOP House vote for a zombie bailout of Ghana?
  • The end of IR. How can any meaningfully constituted "international society" survive a zombie apocalypse? Both Nexon and Drezner assume that international relations will survive in some fashion after the flesh-eating undead hordes attack. But why should we continue to see anything resembling a Westphalian anarchic world--or any other definition that could reasonably be construed as "international"--after such an existential threat that would lead to the end of international trade and migration, as well as the immediate extinction of homo sapiens in entire countries and continents? Nexon posits a return to empire, but I suspect that the true end state is that of a 1984--style totalitarian government. (Twelve Monkeys suggests how this could play out.) Consequently, even for the survivors, the zombie uprising will lead to the end of anything that a Western liberal would regard as "human" in anything but the biological sense.

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