The (international) politics of zombies

Paul Raven @ 11-02-2011

We’ve looked at possible explanations for the seemingly inexorable rise of the zombie as a pop culture signifier before: are they the American Godzilla, standing in for technology run amok which can only be defeated by frontiersman-like skills with machete and shotgun, or are they – as suggested by Futurismic‘s very own Jonathan McCalmont – a shambling metaphor for a transhuman future?

Well, here’s another take for you: via Crooked Timber, Scott McLemee reviews Theories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel W. Drezner, which seems to suggest the fear of the zombie apocalypse is, quite simply, the fear of the geopolitical status quo:

[…] if I read him correctly, the author does seem to think that the realist paradigm in international relations theory has a special relationship with the zombie-apocalypse scenario. It rests on the intertwined principles that “anarchy is the overarching constraint of world politics” (that is, there is no “centralized, legitimate authority” able to enforce a particular order among nation-states) and that “the actors that count are those with the greatest ability to use force,” namely “states with sizable armed forces.” While nation-states possessing an advanced military-industrial complex would have a definite advantage in human-zombie combat, the balance of terror is not one-sided. The tendency of zombies to swarm is a staple of movies and fiction; it turns them into something like an army. The logic of the realist paradigm is to treat states as driven by “an innate lust for power.” Likewise, the undead “have an innate lust for human flesh.” Power and flesh alike count as scarce resources. One has an interest in preserving them both.

The realist assumes that powerful nations have — and may expect to continue to enjoy — the advantage over weaker ones in defining the world order. But the tendency of might to create its own right also benefits the zombies. They are single-minded (if that’s how to put it, since they are dead) and can create more zombies just by biting. This gives them enormous power, and that power is highly renewable. Not all realists are zombies, of course; but all zombies, by default, practice realpolitik.

[…]

“Powerful states would be more likely to withstand an army of flesh-eating ghouls,” Drezner writes. “Weaker and developing countries would be more vulnerable to zombie infestation. Whether due to realist disinterest, waning public support, bureaucratic wrangling, or the fallibility of individual decision-makers, international interventions would likely be ephemeral or imperfect. Complete eradication of the zombie menace would be extremely unlikely. The plague of the undead would join the roster of threats that disproportionately affect the poorest and weakest countries.”

A sobering conclusion. In other words, a zombie apocalypse would be terrible — but it would not really change things very much.

That book’s going straight on my wishlist… 🙂


Not-so-new ‘zine on the block: InterNova

Paul Raven @ 29-09-2010

Via the tireless Charles Tan* at the World SF Blog comes news that international sf magazine InterNova has relaunched as a webzine for your free-to-read enjoyment. The new issue includes fiction from Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Croatia, Germany and the UK, two Italian classic reprints and a couple of non-fiction pieces. Get clickin’.

[ * Seriously, the dude’s a force of nature; he’s either the pseudonym of a team of three or more, or has had some sort of elective surgery to remove the part of his brain that tells him when to sleep. ‘Nuff respect. ]


Legislating against orbital warfare

Paul Raven @ 08-07-2010

Those of you of a certain age will remember Star Wars… not the movies (though you probably remember those pretty well, too) but the Reagan-era space weapons program that took its name from them. And maybe you remember 2008’s brief spate of chest-thumping from the US and China as they demonstrated their abilities to destroy satellites using missiles launched from Earth.

Well, the Obama administration is putting orbital warfare back on the agenda, but in a slightly more positive way – namely by reversing the Bush administration’s previous refusal to discuss potential arms control measures against the weaponisation of near-Earth space. It’s a fine gesture, but there’s a problem – in that swords and ploughshares are very hard to tell apart in this particular domain. Think of it, perhaps, as a nation-state scale version of the street finding its own use for things.

“Dual-use technology will hugely complicate the issue of agreements,” says Joan Johnson-Freese of the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. For example, missiles that can shoot down other missiles to shield a country from attack could also be used to destroy a satellite in space. Indeed, there is “no fundamental difference” between the missiles used in each application, says Ray Williamson of the Secure World Foundation (SWF) in Washington DC.

[…]

Other double-edged swords are satellites designed to autonomously navigate their way to the vicinity of another satellite in space, a technology that the US demonstrated by flying a mission called XSS-11 in 2005.

A country could use such technology to inspect and repair one of its own malfunctioning satellites or to grab it and drag it into the atmosphere to dispose of it without adding to space junk. But the technology could also be used to interfere with or damage another country’s satellite, says Brian Weeden of SWF. “If you can remove a piece of debris from orbit, then if you really wanted to you could probably remove an active satellite maliciously,” he says. “The rendezvous technology is spreading to a lot of places, because people are seeing economic incentive in on-orbit servicing.”

So, how to prevent warfare in orbit? Call in the lawyers and policy wonks!

“I think the key is in trying to constrain behaviours rather than capabilities, because the capabilities are not going to be constrained,” says Krepon. So even if missile interceptors themselves remain legal, an agreement could outlaw their use in tests that destroy satellites.

To deal with the issue of malicious satellites with autonomous rendezvous technology, spacefaring nations might agree to a code of conduct requiring a country to provide advance notice if it expects one of its satellites to closely approach one belonging to another country.

Lots of sensible and noble thinking going on there… but as with all such agreements, the end result is rather dependent on there being no nation-state (or corporation, or other entity) that’s willing to risk international opprobrium by breaking the rules (O HAI, North Korea!). It’s not too big a deal at the moment, perhaps, but if (as seems likely) we start finding good ways to get valuable resources from beyond the gravity well, the economic incentives for playing it fast and loose in Satellite Town will become a whole lot stronger. (Always assuming, of course, that more immediate and mundane economic concerns don’t distract us from peering at the stars from our vantage point in the gutter, so to speak.)

Also worth remembering that there is a genuine need for destructive intervention in orbit; remember us mentioning the rogue zombiesat that no one could switch off? Still wandering about up there, apparently.


Immigrant UK waste turned back at Brazilian docks

Paul Raven @ 22-07-2009

shipping containersOnly the other day we were talking about tracking trash to find out where it goes. Well, it turns out it’s not just people that end up immigrating into countries that don’t want to deal with them; the Brazilian environment agency Ibama is demanding that 1,400 tonnes of hazardous waste – everything from rotting food, used condoms and dirty hypodermics – be repatriated to the UK where it came from.

Among the rubbish were the names of many British supermarkets, and UK newspapers were also clearly identifiable.

Ibama officials say they want the waste sent back to the UK.

“We will ask for the repatriation of this garbage,” said Roberto Messias, Ibama president. “Clearly, Brazil is not a big rubbish dump of the world.”

Reports in the UK media say the waste was sent from Felixstowe in eastern England to the port of Santos, near Sao Paulo, and two other ports in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

The Brazilian companies that received the waste said they had been expecting recyclable plastic, The Times reported.

I guess this is the nation-state version of the rocks-in-an-iPod-box scam. Hopefully it’ll get harder for organisations to pull off this kind of switcheroo without getting caught by shipment tracking systems… but while there’s money to be made, you can guarantee they’ll keep trying it on. I expect corruption is a large part of the problem – as much at the UK end as elsewhere. [via SlashDot; image by bejnar.net]


Beginner’s guide to starting your own nation

Paul Raven @ 29-02-2008

girl-with-flag If you’re looking for a way to kill time this Friday (before Friday free Fiction turns up, of course), why not start planning your own independent country with this concise summary of the steps required to create an internationally-recognised sovereign state? [image by dario_471]

As with business and industry, it can be tough going for the small start-ups in the statehood game, but the plucky and persistent sometimes manage to stay afloat. Once you’ve founded your micronation, you may want to join the League Of Micronations in lieu of acceptance into the UN; if nothing else, it’ll give you a social circle for bitching about the big boys.