by Stefan Pedersen
The idea that adherents of neoliberalism desire world government is an old misunderstanding. In recent years this mistaken notion has been promoted by populists such as former President Donald Trump who in one of his most ideology and world order oriented speeches to the UN General Assembly made the ‘ideology of globalism’ and global governance seem diametrically opposed to his preferred ‘doctrine of patriotism’ and national sovereignty.
Though it is not nominally a given that Trump and others with similar nationalist inclinations are specifically talking about neoliberalism when this supposed major contemporary ideological cleavage comes up, there should be little doubt among students of global governance that this is effectively what is being claimed when neoliberalism has been the hegemonic ideology in global governance circles at least since the Cold War ended. In addition, the terms ‘globalism’ and ‘globalists’ have been connected to early and present-day neoliberals in several influential studies over the last few decades. Noteworthy examples in this regard are here initially Manfred B. Steger’s many works treating neoliberalism as the hegemonic form of ‘globalism’—albeit not the only one. Then, Or Rosenboim notes how neoliberal theorists actively played a role in ‘the emergence of globalism’ in the 1930s and 1940s—and she also sees neoliberalism as one of several streams of thought advocating ‘globalism’ in the sense of variations over the theme of establishing some kind of global order. Finally, and most consequentially for the way neoliberalism is presently understood, Quinn Slobodian has in his Globalists (2018) convincingly and in detail argued that the early neoliberals operated with an agenda aiming for global control of the workings of the world economy that subsequent ideological fellow travellers had to a certain extent managed to establish through legislative and international institutional inroads by the mid-1990s.
Those at the forefront of studying neoliberalism today, such as Slobodian, has provided us with a multitude of insights into neoliberalism’s multifaceted development and present configuration. For instance by further confirming how the neoliberals have prioritised establishing ‘world law’ over a ‘world state’. But on one front there seems to be a paucity in the record—and that is when it comes to how the neoliberals originally arrived at this stance and what it actually meant in world order terms in comparison to the then extant alternatives.
What most scholars have thought happened in world order terms during neoliberalism’s formative period has had a tendency to be derived from an intense scrutiny of the period that spanned from the Colloque Walter Lippmann in 1938 to the foundation of the Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) in 1947. Significant here is what was said by the various ‘early neoliberals’ who attended these monumental events in this formative period for the neoliberal ideology. But as Hagen Schulz-Forberg has now sensibly argued, if the Colloque Walter Lippmann represents the birth of neoliberalism, then that birth will have been ‘preceded by pregnancy’.
The years of importance for the earliest development of neoliberal thought does therefore not exclusively include the 1938–1947 period but also the about two decades of intellectual gestation that preceded that final sprint leading up to the formation of the MPS. Considering the span of the careers of some of the primary actors here, such as Walter Lippmann—who the eponymous Colloque in 1938 was held in honour of—and Ludwig von Mises, this brings us back to their earlier writings during the First World War. We can therefore say that the neoliberalism whose core tenets were broadly agreed upon in the late 1940s was the fruit of debates that spanned the entire period 1914 to 1947. This was also a time when considerable intellectual effort was put into thinking about world order, first concerning the shape of the League of Nations and then the shape of what ought to replace the League of Nations once this organisation had revealed itself to be dysfunctional for ensuring peace among mankind.
World politically, the temporal span from 1914 to 1947 also takes us from the realisation that imperialist nationalism needs to be tamed or excised, brought first to the fore by the occurrence of the Great War itself, to the understanding that a ‘Cold War’ had begun in 1947—an expression not coincidentally popularised by Lippmann, who was a journalist and an avid commentator on foreign affairs, and in 1947 published a book with the title The Cold War that was a compilation of articles he had recently written. Lippmann, as perhaps the premier American foreign policy commentator of the time and associate of centrally placed early neoliberals such as Friedrich von Hayek, is the key to unlocking the world order dimension that neoliberalism ended up incorporating by the end of the 1940s.
The world order dimension
To get a handle on this argument it is important to note that neoliberalism, like all other major political ideologies, can be understood as composed of a series of conceptual dimensions. Since neoliberalism is considered the ideology behind the process of economic globalisation that gained truly global reach once the Cold War ended, it is naturally its economic dimension that has been the key focus. And to understand how this works, we can think of the number of ideologies with party political representation that by the 1990s had put neoliberalism’s economic dimension into the economic slot Keynesianism once occupied. This practically happened across the board, with Thatcher and the Conservatives and Reagan and the Republicans spearheading a change in policy later also followed up by Clinton and the Democrats and Blair and the Labour Party—and this was repeated throughout the world.
Thinking here in terms of an ideally articulated neoliberalism, rather than the compromised versions that appear once the ideology is made to fit some party political program in the real world of political practice, neoliberalism should be understood as a multi-dimensional ideology in its own right that also contains a ‘world order dimension’ of great significance. Every ideology contains what is at least an implicit world order dimension. But since today’s nation-state centric world order has existed unchallenged longer than most can remember, it is commonly assumed that all political ideologies are designed to function in the state system. Conservatism, liberalism, and socialism, we know best in their national garb. Stalinism is a form of communism made to suit the world of nation-states with its focus on achieving ‘socialism in one country’. Every ideology that is made to function within the nationalist and statist parameters of the current world order share the same basic ‘world order dimension’.
The early neoliberals ended up deviating from traditional nationalist conceptions while recognising—with Marx and Trotsky—that a world economy had become a feature of reality. The Trotskyist solution to dealing with a novel world economy was to aim to subsume the entire world under the command and control of a communist regime that would also lead politically. The neoliberals worked from the same premise, that there was now a world economy, but with a different set of aims. They wanted to free the economy—meaning those who benefitted from mastering it through their entrepreneurial skills. That meant avoiding at all cost that some force powerful enough to subsume the world economy to a different set of political interests arose—be they for instance communist, democratic socialist, social liberal, or humanist (and in our day we can add ‘ecological’ to that list). This was in part achieved through taking a strong anti-totalitarian stance, deriding both fascism and communism. But there was a greater Westernised threat to a world order suited to neoliberal interests: a world democracy, where the free people of the world could elect a socialist world party into power.
A world democracy, as someone as versed in cosmopolitan theory as Mises well knew, was not really compatible with a world of nation-states. It would have to involve what we can call a ‘cosmopolitan world order dimension’ that is incompatible with the nation-state sovereignty that forms the foundation of the extant system of states. Mises had once thought this an ideal solution himself, since to him cosmopolitanism was compatible with ‘liberalism’ and ensuring world peace. But it gradually dawned on both Mises and Hayek that a paradigm shift in the world order dimension subscribed to by the democratic populations on the planet could spell doom for the institution of the neoliberal economic agenda they were in the process of planning in detail. A world government, though still desirable if its only function would be to ensure the free working of the world economy, was an all too risky proposition if it were to be democratically elected. The simple reason for this was that the neoliberal agenda was understood to be not inherently popular but elitist, or for the few rather than the many. Popular politics in the 1930s and 1940s, especially as fascism, Nazism, isolationism, and other right-wing varieties lost their pull, was becoming more and more social democratic or liberal in a manner that we today would perhaps better recognise as ‘democratic socialist’.
The neoliberals therefore thought it would be better if the rules for running the world economy were simply made expertly and separated from the political rules that parties elected into power could alter according to the volatile demands of diverse voting publics. This neat separation would have the benefit of blocking socialist reforms from having severe world economic effects even if socialists were to be elected into power in key nation-states. What this meant in world order terms was that neoliberalism needed to be both economically ‘globalist’ or universalist, so that the world economy could operate on neoliberal principles, and politically nationalist, so that controlling the world economy as a whole would not be subject to popular desires. The possibility of just such a separation was aired by Mises already in 1919. But due to the insecurity surrounding the question of what would replace the ailing League of Nations, a question which became steadily more acute as world politics converged on the course that led to World War II throughout the 1930s, there was always also the chance that the masses would start to demand the more comprehensive political solution to the world’s problems that world federalism offered. The neoliberals therefore also had to address this contingency—while finding ways to argue against it without sounding too illiberal. However, as the Second World War entered the phase where Allied victory seemed certain while its leaders seemed eager to water down any plans for a permanent organisation to keep the peace, the neoliberals understood that the old plans could be reinstated. Lippmann is an apt example of a neoliberal theorist who helped see to it that things developed this way.
Walter Lippmann's crusade against One Worldism
Lippmann had a long history of engagement with issues relating to diplomacy and grand strategy that made him the foreign policy wonk in the group of early neoliberals. In 1918, Lippmann had been the brain behind no less than eight of Wilson’s historic ‘Fourteen Points’ that laid down the American terms for the peace to come after the end of the First World War. From this time on, Lippmann was a very well-connected American journalist and intellectual, whose close connections in Washington D.C. included all sitting Presidents from Wilson to Lyndon B. Johnson. Even after his formal retirement from the Washington D. C. circuit, Nixon sought the old Lippmann’s advice too. Lippmann was no neutral observer, and is for instance known to have sided for Harry Truman against Henry A. Wallace in the crucial contest for the Vice Presidency that preceded President Roosevelt’s last nomination. This calculated action is evidence that Lippmann, in accordance with early neoliberal tenets, preferred Truman’s anti-progressive agenda of replacing the ‘New Dealers’ Roosevelt had earlier put in place—New Dealers such as Wallace—with ‘Wall Streeters’ in his cabinet.
What is less often pointed out here is that Lippmann, through favouring Truman over Wallace, also would have made it clear that he was siding against the ‘One Worldism’ that Wallace and others who had thought long and hard about a desirable world order advocated. Lippmann, who instead appealed to a ‘realism’ that rested ‘on a hard calculation of the “national interest”’ was at this point ‘distressed by’ the ‘one world euphoria’ which was then a prevalent feature of post-war planning in idealist circles. The world federalism that was espoused by the idealists of the day seemed entirely impractical to Lippmann, who himself can be counted amongst the ‘classical realists’ in international relations theory—even if his ‘original contributions to realist theory were ultimately modest’. In contrast, Lippmann towards the end of World War II instead offered up a ‘formula for great-power cooperation’ that he thought of as ‘a realistic alternative both to bankrupt isolationism and wishful universalism’. What all this goes to show is that Lippmann, in his capacity within early neoliberal circles as an authority on matters of foreign policy and world order, would have further strengthened the neoliberal insight that the state-system was crucial to neoliberalism.
Reading the contemporaneous works of Mises and Hayek—which in the case of Mises spans nearly the entire 1914–1947 period—this is indeed what seems to have happened towards the end of this formative era for neoliberalism. Mises and Hayek were both markedly more open to idealist forms of world federalism in the early to late 1930s than what they ended up being towards the end of the war and in the late 1940s. This was likely part in response to Lippmann’s realist influence, supported by the general course of events, with the founding of the United Nations and the early signs of the Cold War developing, and part in response to a growing realisation that the world order that was most desirable from a neoliberal standpoint ought to be ‘many worldist’ in its construction rather than based on genuine One Worldism.
Mises and Hayek stands out as the most centrally placed early neoliberals who were willing to engage with the world order debate that ran concurrently to the formative neoliberal debate. Lippmann was not the only early neoliberal sceptical to One Worldism—the claim has indeed been made that the early neoliberals taken under one were all ‘acutely aware that nation-states were here to stay’. But in the world order discourse of the time, there were two distinctly different approaches to what was then viewed as the desirable and necessary goal of creating ‘a world-wide legal order’—and these two were either ‘law-by-compact-of-nations’ or a ‘complete world government that will include and sanction a world-wide legal order’. It is debateable if even those who subscribed to the former approach really believed that ‘nation-states were here to stay’ as the League of Nations order wound up around them and the Third Reich and then Imperial Japan swallowed most nations in their surrounding areas. It was also not a certainty that the United States or the Soviet Union, who each straddled the globe from the perspective of their respective capitals at war’s end, would let go of the new lands they now commanded. For a while, both Mises and Hayek supported some form or other of world federalism to ensure that basic security could be installed worldwide—with Mises advocating world government and Hayek favouring a federation of capitalist nations.
What laid the dreams of a world order for all humanity to rest was the lack of trust among the Allied nations that established the United Nations in 1945—which led to veto power being granted to the permanent members of the Security Council. This effectively made humanity’s further progress hostage to the whims of the leaders of the nations that won World War II, here primarily the conflicting interests of the new superpowers. Any remnant of hope for a quick remedy to this stalemate then disappeared completely as the Cold War started to escalate and the McCarthyite Red Scare kicked in. This made cosmopolitan advocates of a humane world order appear dangerously close to proponents of Internationalism in the United States and conversely led their Soviet equivalents to be seen as potential capitalist class-traitors there. The neoliberals had before this crisis point was reached and the world order debate was ended in its present iteration already disowned their prior engagement with figuring out what form a desirable world order people would willingly sign up to should take.
Divide et impera
Sometime between the beginning of the Second World War in Europe in 1939 and its end in 1945, both Hayek and Mises seem to have come to the same conclusion—supported by Lippmann’s insights and arguments—that world government would more likely than not be anathema to the primary goal of neoliberalism: creating a world economy where entrepreneurs could let their fortunes bloom unimpeded by negative government intervention. The reason for this was straightforward enough. Any world federation that in principle would be acceptable to the Western nations, first and foremost in 1945 the United States, Britain, and France, would have to be democratic. And an elected world government would at this time more likely than not be socialist, eager to install a Keynesian version of a global New Deal. This represented the worst of all worlds for the neoliberals—the least desirable scenario. One Worldism therefore had to be countered—with Lippmann’s ‘realism’ and communist smears. Subsequently, the whole program for a world government had to be kept discredited—which is achieved simply enough by letting the present world order run on auto-pilot, since its political default position is to uphold national sovereignty, nationalism, and the division of humanity into a myriad of designated national peoples with their own territorial states.
We are in the end faced with a peculiar world order dimension in neoliberalism that is anti-globalist in political terms but globalist in economic terms—insofar as we understand ‘globalist’ to be a synonym for universalist, which is of course how it is understood by nationalist politicians today who use the term to convey the opposite of the nationalism they themselves seek to promote. The paradox is therefore that the neoliberal ‘globalists’ are against the creation of a democratically functioning planetary polity or world government, especially if one understands ‘world government’ to be the legitimate government of a world republic or planetary federation ruled by representatives elected into power by the global populace in free and fair elections—that therefore also would end up being multi-ideological.
Pluralist cosmopolitan democracy embodied in a world parliament is not the goal, or even one of the goals that adherents of neoliberalism aim for. Instead it is something neoliberals fear, and that is a very different proposition from the nationalists’ misconceived portrayal. Another great misunderstanding today, one that follows from the misconception that the neoliberals want genuine world government, is that the neoliberals would abhor nationalism. Today, this leads many on both the left and right to think that neoliberalism can be effectively countered with a turn to nationalism—on the assumption that nationalism is the opposite of neoliberal globalism and therefore incompatible with it. But that is not the case. The neoliberals instead rely on nationalism to keep democracy tamed and irrelevant, at a scale too small for it to exercise effective control over the world economy’s neoliberal ruleset—which continues to send the spoils of economic activity towards Hayek’s idealised ‘entrepreneurs’.
Global democracy, stripped of nationalist division, is what the early neoliberals truly feared. We can today imagine what for instance a democratic socialist world government able and willing to enforce global taxation could do to the profit margins of high finance, multi-national corporations, global extractive industries, and the high net worth of individuals that currently are allowed to keep their money outside of democratic reach in offshore accounts, and see why the prospect of an elected world government became repulsive to neoliberals.
The big question today is therefore, when will we see an ideological movement for instituting exactly the kind of world government in the interest of humanity in general that would work properly to counter the neoliberal agenda? Any number of ideological projects could be global in scope, whether we are talking about prioritising liberal global democracy, economic solidarity, the ecological preservation of the biosphere, or enabling the future flourishing of human civilisation through intertwining all these three ideological strands into a cohesive and holistic planetary cosmopolitanism or planetarism that would be both post-nationalistic and post-neoliberal in principle. The left and green parties of today are clearly not there yet—but they will at some point have to realise that neoliberalism and nationalism are two sides of the same coin—the two ideologies reinforce each other and should therefore be countered as one.
 Stephen Gill. ‘European Governance and New Constitutionalism: Economic and Monetary Union and Alternatives to Disciplinary Neoliberalism in Europe’, New Political Economy, 3 (1), 1998, pp. 5–26.
 Manfred B. Steger. Globalisms: The Great Ideological Struggle of the Twenty-First Century. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009.
 Or Rosenboim. The Emergence of Globalism. Visions of World Order in Britain and the United States, 1939-1950. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.
 Quinn Slobodian. Globalists. The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.
 Slobodian. Ibid., p. 272.
 See for instance: Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, eds. The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
 Hagen Schulz-Forberg. ‘Embedded Early Neoliberalism: Transnational Origins of the Agenda of Liberalism Reconsidered’, in Dieter Plehwe, Quinn Slobodian and Philip Mirowski, eds. Nine Lives of Neoliberalism. London: Verso, pp. 169-196.
 Glenda Sluga. Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
 Ronald Steel. Walter Lippmann and the American Century. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980, p. 445.
 ‘Liberal’ in the American sense of supporting (the left-wing of) the Democratic party.
 Ludwig von Mises, Nation, State, and Economy: Contributions to the Politics and History of
Our Time. New York: New York University Press, 1983.
 Steel, Ibid., pp. 134–135.
 Steel, Ibid.
 Steel, Ibid., p. 589.
 John C. Culver and John Hyde. American Dreamer. A Life of Henry A. Wallace. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001, p. 342.
 John Nichols. The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party. The Enduring Legacy of Henry A. Wallace’s Antifascist, Antiracist Politics. London: Verso, 2020, pp. 109–110.
 Culver and Hyde, Ibid., pp. 402–418; and; Steel, Ibid., p. 407.
 Steel, Ibid., pp. 404–406.
 William E. Scheuerman. The Realist Case for Global Reform. Cambridge: Polity, 2011, p. 6.
 Steel, Ibid., p. 406.
 This development is detailed in the article that this text is a companion piece to.
 Schulz-Forberg, Ibid., p. 194.
 Gray L. Dorsey. ‘Two Objective Bases for a World-Wide Legal Order’, in F.S.C Northrop, ed. Ideological Differences and World Order. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 442–474.
 Also detailed in the article that this text is a companion piece to.
 Gilbert Jonas. One Shining Moment: A Short History of the American Student World Federalist Movement 1942-1953. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.com, Inc. 2001.
by Maísa Edwards
When we think of international institutions, it tends to be a select few that come to mind: the UN, NATO, the IMF, and the like, as well as multilateral groups such as the BRICS and India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA). Less well-known is the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZOPACAS). But how should the ZOPACAS best be characterised? Is it even a formal organisation, an institution, or a military alliance? None of its member-states belong to the G7, although three are now members of the G20. It is made up of a collection of countries, some large like Brazil and South Africa, some very small like Uruguay and Benin, at times with Left- or Right-leaning governments, and some that have shifted from one to the other since its establishment. The ZOPACAS membership currently stands at twenty-four, with three South American and twenty-one African nations, and four official languages: English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. What these member states have in common, despite their differing individual and political characteristics as well as colonial legacies, is a shared ideal that brings them together—a shared approach to peace. So what is the ZOPACAS and why is it important for contemporary trends in global relations?
The origins of the ZOPACAS
The ZOPACAS was established on 27 October 1986 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Its founding Declaration, A/Res/41/11, has seven preambulatory and seven operative clauses. They detail the various commitments of the newly-created zone of peace. As well as being a zone of peace, a designated geographic area dedicated to the preservation of peace, the ZOPACAS can also be thought of as a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ). This is due to a stipulation of membership being that states must not be in possession of any nuclear weapons capabilities. As Ramesh Thakur explains, ‘A NWFZ is characterised by “four Noes”: no possession, testing, deployment, or use of nuclear weapons’. This is significant, given that the ZOPACAS was established during the final decade of the Cold War. There are several other treaties that also have these tenets as core ideals. These include the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which prohibits nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean; and the Treaty of Rarotonga, which establishes the South Pacific as a nuclear-free zone. The ZOPACAS can thus be viewed as part of a wider movement, led predominantly by countries in the South, towards disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The commitments of the Declaration of the ZOPACAS, as described in A/Res/41/11, were centred principally around maintaining the South Atlantic as an area dedicated to peace and cooperation, ‘for the benefit of all mankind and, in particular, of the peoples of the region’. The Declaration also includes the need to remove the threat and presence of foreign military powers from the South Atlantic region, as well as maintaining a strong stance against the introduction and proliferation of nuclear weapons. It also condemned South Africa’s existing racist Apartheid regime and the country’s contemporaneous and illegal occupation of Namibia, with a clause stipulating an end to both as ‘conditions essential to guaranteeing the peace and security of the South Atlantic’. Advocacy for change in South Africa was a progressive step for the ZOPACAS to take, and was seen as crucial if the ZOPACAS was to be effective and live up to its name in practice.
When the ZOPACAS came into being, the three South American member states, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, had recently returned to democracy following lengthy periods of Right-wing military dictatorship. They were keen to strengthen diplomatic and defence relations with their neighbours in South America and across the Atlantic. In West Africa, however, democracy was far from the norm, and states such as Nigeria and Ghana were governed by military juntas, whilst Angola was ruled by a Left-wing MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) government closely aligned with the USSR. Despite the differences in political leanings and forms of government, a shared ideological position informed their actions and those of other ZOPACAS member states to the extent that they came together to promote their interests in the South Atlantic. In straightforward terms, we are dealing with a delimited geographical space occupied by a collection of state actors that shared a common approach to peace and cooperation.
How did the ZOPACAS come about? The UNGA voting record for its establishment shows that one hundred and twenty-four countries voted in favour, eight countries abstained, and one country voted against. Amongst those voting in favour were the future ZOPACAS member-states, as well as the Cold War superpower the USSR and its fellow United Nations Security Council P5 member, the UK. The eight abstainers were the European NATO members France, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and the Netherlands, as well as the then-rising Asian power Japan. The only opposing vote was cast by the US.
What motivated these abstentions? Whilst the fifth operative clause of the Declaration of the ZOPACAS stressed the need for an end to Apartheid and self-governance for Namibia, it also urged ‘the implementation of all United Nations resolutions pertaining to colonialism’. This may go some way to explain the abstentions of former colonial powers, particularly France, Belgium, and Portugal; after all, many member states of the ZOPACAS, including Brazil, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Senegal and others are former colonies of these European powers. France expressed reservations that the Declaration provided ‘no adequate guarantees for freedom of navigation on the high seas…. [and that there was] vagueness concerning the limits of the zone concerned’. The Federal Republic of Germany articulated the same reservations. It is likely that the abstaining European powers, as exemplified by France and Germany, viewed the establishment of the ZOPACAS as a hindrance to their continued Eurocentric influence in the South Atlantic Ocean as well as in many of the countries of the region. This would reinforce their reluctance to support the establishment of a zone of peace from which they, as foreign military powers, would be excluded.
Why did the United States vote against the establishment of the ZOPACAS? Diplomatic records in the Itamaraty (Brazilian Foreign Ministry) archives show that the US had initially planned to abstain in the voting process, only to ultimately change course and vote against the ZOPACAS. The cable shows that the US demanded that Angola be cited in the Declaration as a threat to peace in the South Atlantic region, in addition to mentioning South Africa and its occupation of Namibia. Furthermore, the cable shows that the US also shared the same concern as France and Germany with regard to freedom of navigation. These themes encapsulated the competing ideologies at play in the wider late-Cold War context. At that time, the socialist government of Angola, led by the MPLA, was backed by the USSR. It is likely that the US viewed Angola as a menace and an unsuitable guest at the table to discuss peace in the region, not least since the country was also in the throes of a civil war. It is also conceivable that the US was concerned that the ZOPACAS would, in time, evolve into a Southern alliance, one that could eventually challenge NATO. The United States’ decision to vote against the ZOPACAS did not, however, hinder its establishment in 1986.
We can pause for a moment to recap on the external ideological context at the birth of the ZOPACAS: a certain Eurocentrism on the part of some former colonial powers with a history and influence in the South Atlantic region, leading to abstentions in the vote to establish the ZOPACAS; the existence of Apartheid-era South Africa, isolated from and at odds with its African neighbours; and the closing years of the Cold War, when superpower rivalry was apparent in the ZOPACAS vote and the Soviet Union actively supported one side of the civil war in Angola.
The ZOPACAS’ evolution after its establishment
The first ministerial meeting of the ZOPACAS took place two years later, in Rio de Janeiro in 1988. The twenty-two founding member states convened to discuss the commitments of the ZOPACAS and would continue to do so at a further six ministerial meetings: Abuja 1990, Brasilia 1994, Somerset West 1996, Buenos Aires 1998, Luanda 2007, and Montevideo 2013. Those founding members were later joined by Namibia and South Africa, following the independence of the former and the end of the Apartheid regime in the latter. South Africa’s decision to end its nuclear programme and decommission its small arsenal of nuclear weapons also opened the door to membership. It is noteworthy that South Africa is the only known case of nuclear reversal and has since become a major advocate for nuclear disarmament, although this is more the result of steps to end Apartheid under F.W. de Klerk rather than a direct result of the formation of the ZOPACAS. The country would later host the 1996 ministerial meeting in Somerset West and eventually become a leading ZOPACAS member. The Treaty of Pelindaba, which established Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone, was also signed the same year. A subsequent meeting took place in Pretoria in 1996, at which ambassadors from several ZOPACAS member states (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Namibia, Angola, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo) as well as South African diplomats gathered to further discuss the protection of the marine environment, the denuclearisation of the South Atlantic, and combatting drug trafficking. What does this mean for the ideals of the ZOPACAS? In short: a steady change in focus.
The ZOPACAS is dedicated to preserving peace in the South Atlantic, particularly through the elimination of threats, including those posed by the presence of nuclear weapons. With the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the achievement of Namibian independence, two explicit threats named in the Declaration of the ZOPACAS had been removed. However, new issues were taking centre-stage with an emphasis on cooperation, the combatting of piracy and drug trafficking, as well as environmental concerns. These have become new priorities but the ideals of the ZOPACAS, however, remain the same: maintenance of peace and the strengthening of multilateral cooperation between members.
For South Africa, one the many positive outcomes of the end of Apartheid was its membership of the ZOPACAS. Like the abandonment of its nuclear arsenal, it is an example of the country’s shift from isolation, from a regime based upon racism and a recent history of draconian internal repression of its majority population, to a shared ideological alignment with twenty-three other states, to the extent that it too sought common goals of peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic. The addition of South Africa introduced another important player, a country with power and influence in Africa but also one interested in furthering South-South cooperation. As members of IBSA, Brazil and South Africa have continued to collaborate, and both have participated, along with India, in the IBSAMAR naval exercises. The size and reach of South Africa suggests that in the future it may begin to rival Brazil in terms of influence in the ZOPACAS.
The ZOPACAS agenda has evolved since 1986 and has developed to keep up with changing security concerns in the South Atlantic region. In the post-Cold War period, there has been increased debate in international fora and elsewhere about the Global South and South-South cooperation. The agenda of peace and cooperation between member states, however, remains at the heart of the ZOPACAS. This has led to the ZOPACAS often being cited as an example of multilateral cooperation, and member states have also been vocal in their individual approaches to, and interests in, the South Atlantic and regional security. In recent years, there has been a rise in concerns over maritime security, sustainable development, and the presence in the South Atlantic of extra-regional actors (such as the US and China), as well as piracy and drug trafficking. These concerns have escalated interest in strengthening maritime security and also brought those issues into sharper focus as potential threats to peace. These matters have impacted the agenda of the ZOPACAS and what the organisation defines as a perceived threat, and as a danger to the maintenance of peace. In turn, there has also been an increased focus on the maritime region of the Gulf of Guinea where many of these concerns have arisen. The most recent ministerial meeting in 2013, in Montevideo, was the first to include defence ministers along with foreign ministers among countries’ representatives. This is significant in seeking to address the growing security concerns of the ZOPACAS member-states. This sign of evolution indicates an explicit shift towards addressing defence concerns and signals an acknowledged need to move towards explicit military cooperation.
Brazil and the ZOPACAS
Looking across to South America, Brazil, a hegemon in the South Atlantic region, has been a leading member of the ZOPACAS since its inception. With a coastline of over 7,000 km, it is not surprising that the South Atlantic Ocean is a principal area of interest for the country. It is therefore beneficial for Brazil to maintain good if not strong diplomatic and defence relations with its neighbours, both in South America but also across the ocean in Africa. Brazil’s interests and aspirations in the South Atlantic are military, commercial, socio-economic, and diplomatic. Furthermore, its diplomatic and defence agenda in the South Atlantic was central to its role in the establishment of this zone of peace.
In fact, the ZOPACAS can be viewed as a Brazilian project, and indeed without Brazilian efforts the continuation of the ZOPACAS would not have been possible. Senior Brazilian diplomats frequently refer to ZOPACAS as “our initiative”, and in several diplomatic cables in the Itamaraty archives, the ZOPACAS has been explicitly described as an ‘iniciativa brasileira sobre a zona de paz e cooperação do Atlântico Sul’. Brazil has hosted two of the seven ministerial meetings and provides the momentum behind what can be referred to as a “new revitalisation” of the ZOPACAS. As mentioned earlier, the most recent ministerial meeting of the ZOPACAS was back in 2013; this has been the longest lull between ministerial meetings, the previous being between those in Buenos Aires in 1998 and Luanda in 2007. Brazil is currently taking steps to instigate another ministerial meeting and the importance of the ZOPACAS is apparent in both the 2020 Brazilian National Defence Plan and the Naval Strategy Plan 2040.
The National Defence Plan makes reference to the importance of the ZOPACAS and details how strengthening it will help consolidate Brazil’s position as a relevant regional actor, increase the country’s influence in its strategic environment, and reduce the possibility of military interference by extra-regional powers in the South Atlantic. The Naval Strategy Plan, which includes a twenty-year outlook, mentions the need to consolidate the ZOPACAS and avoid what it calls the interference of illegitimate interests. These steps, taken by the Brazilian Ministry of Defence, indicate a direction of travel towards a “new revitalisation” of the ZOPACAS—as signalled by the reference to the ZOPACAS made by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in his speech at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020.
It would be fair to say that, until very recently during the populist Bolsonaro presidency, in terms of foreign policy Brazil has largely followed where the US led under Donald Trump. Yet the Bolsonaro government appearing to give its support to the ZOPACAS would nevertheless suggest some independent thinking, in relation to past US opposition to the organisation’s establishment. On the ideological front, Bolsonaro and his government stand as polar opposites of a number of the Brazilian presidents and governments that precede him, such as the social democrat Cardoso and the avowedly leftist Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT) governments of Lula da Silva and Rousseff; and yet despite this, Brazil continues to endorse the ZOPACAS. Even with a limited interest in multilateralism, Bolsonaro’s government appears to view the ZOPACAS as one route to maintaining relations with Brazil’s neighbours on both sides of the Atlantic.
ZOPACAS into the future
Brazil is not the only country paying renewed attention to this zone of peace. It is joined by most of the countries that make up what I would call the Big Five ZOPACAS member-states: South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Argentina, and Uruguay. Two countries, Argentina and South Africa, along with Brazil, are members of the G20 and have relatively sophisticated armed forces. Nigeria and Angola have some dominance in Africa and have significant natural resources, including abundant oil reserves. Uruguay, although a small country, maintains a visible and strong contribution to UN peace keeping operations (PKOs). All five have striven to be important actors in both their respective continents and the Global South, and along with Brazil, they are the six countries that have hosted ZOPACAS ministerial meetings. The Brazilian Navy hosted an online ‘ZOPACAS Symposium’ as recently as 27 October 2020, with the participation of rear-admirals from Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, and Angola, together with a number of academics. They discussed the ZOPACAS, wider South Atlantic security issues, current maritime security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea, such as the rise in piracy and drug-trafficking, and the presence of extra-regional actors in the South Atlantic, such as the UK and China. This was followed on the 9–10 November 2020 by the 6th Symposium on Regional Security, organised by the Brazilian Ministry of Defence, which featured a panel on the ZOPACAS and the Gulf of Guinea. It included opening remarks given by Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo and its Vice President, retired General Hamilton Mourão, in which they lauded the importance of the South Atlantic for Brazil. This recent activity reinforces the notion of a “new revitalisation” of the ZOPACAS. It also shows the continuing importance of the founding ideals of the ZOPACAS and incorporates its newer concerns, such as the need for greater collaboration in maritime security in the South Atlantic.
The concern regarding extra-regional actors is also a growing one. The UK, China, and the US are all nuclear powers and members of the P5. It is not unreasonable to assume that their presence in the South Atlantic is viewed as an additional security concern for the region and the ZOPACAS member states, as evidenced by Brazil in its National Defence Plan. The founding Declaration of the ZOPACAS clearly mentions ‘the need to preserve the region from measures of militarisation, the arms race, the presence of foreign military bases and, above all, nuclear weapons’. We know that the UK has a more permanent presence in the South Atlantic, in the form of British Overseas Territories, the Islands of the Falklands/Malvinas, South Georgia, South Sandwich, Ascension, Saint Helena, and Tristan da Cunha. It also lays claim to the British Antarctic Territory. Since the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War, there has also been a reinforced British garrison on the Islands. It is highly doubtful that the British presence in the South Atlantic will end or be reduced in the near future. The possibility of an increased military presence by nuclear powers further contravenes core ideals of the ZOPACAS. This is where projections of a possible institutionalisation of the ZOPACAS, albeit delayed by COVID-19, including the establishment of a formal structure, would aid the practical application of the ideals of the zone of peace. This would also be an important step in consolidating the ZOPACAS, and be useful in combatting these encroachments, giving the ZOPACAS an amplified voice and a presence as an international forum.
Although no direct risk of military conflict with extra-regional actors seems evident at present, the ZOPACAS features prominently in current discussions on maritime security and peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic. The most pressing concern is combatting current threats to peace in the Gulf of Guinea, first and foremost clamping down on piracy and drug trafficking. As one of the most developed instances so far of South-South or South American-African cooperation, the ZOPACAS can serve as an ideological laboratory to test the regions’ approach and means to tackling such regional threats. The member-states of the ZOPACAS are renewing their interest in this zone of peace and in the face of growing security concerns, are more likely to band together to protect their interests and promote peace in the South Atlantic. A shared desire remains to defend and uphold the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of the ZOPACAS, although updated with the end of Apartheid and the independence of Namibia. As a consequence, it is clear that although it was established in the last decade of the Cold War and for the conditions imposed by a very different geopolitical context, the ZOPACAS is still relevant to further peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic. A path to a “new revitalisation” suggests that we will be hearing much more about the ZOPACAS in coming years.
Angola, Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo and Uruguay.
 Ramesh Thakur (ed.), Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998), 7.
 United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/41/11: Declaration of a zone of peace and co-operation in the South Atlantic (1986).
 UNGA, A/41/PV.50, 1986.
 Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazilian Mission to the United Nations (DELBRASONU) Collection, Diplomatic Cable Number: 1794 - XLI AGNU. Plenário. Item 139. Atlântico Sul. 24 October 1986.
 Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazilian Foreign Ministry to Brazilian Mission to the United Nations (DELBRASONU), Diplomatic Cable Number: OF01613A – Retransmissão. ZOPACAS. Reunião em Pretoria. Relatorio e comentarios.
 ‘[T]he Brazilian initiative on the zone of peace and cooperation of the South Atlantic’. Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (1986). Brazilian Mission to the United Nations (DELBRASONU) Collection, Diplomatic Cable Number: 1640. XLI AGNU. Plenário. Item 139. Atlântico Sul. 10 October 1986.
 Ministério da Defesa, Plano Estratégico da Marinha (Brasília, 2020); Ministério da Defesa, Plano Nacional de Defesa (Brasília: Marinha do Brasil, 2020).
 Brazilian Navy, ZOPACAS Symposium. Online Event (27 October 2020), https://www.marinha.mil.br/simposiozopacas/.
 Brazilian Ministry of Defence, 6° Simpósio sobre Segurança Regional (9–10 November 2020), https://www.gov.br/defesa/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/6deg-simposio-sobre-seguranca-regional-europa-america-do-sul-tera-participacao-de-especialistas-internacionais-e-autoridades.
 UNGA, A/RES/41/11, 1986.