by Tejas Parasher
It is difficult to overstate just how much of a watershed moment the immediate aftermath of WWI was for modern democracy. No previous global crisis had revealed on such a scale the self-destructiveness and the fundamental unsustainability—political, economic, and military—of the European states-system. Writing from London in 1917, the British economist John Hobson predicted the rise of new movements which would increasingly seek to disentangle democracy from the military-industrial state; as a result of the war, Hobson argued, “not only the spirit but the very forms of popular self-government have suffered violation.” The war had made clear in stark terms the ever-present possibilities of autocracy and violence underneath the veneer of democracy in modern states.
Hobson’s observation proved prescient. The months after November 1918 witnessed a proliferation of political experiments, ranging from the council communism of the Spartacus League in Berlin to pluralism and guild socialism in Britain, France, and the United States, bringing together political and legal thinkers like Rosa Luxemburg, Léon Duguit, Harold Laski, and G.D.H. Cole. Though distinct in their respective ideologies, these movements were all propelled by disillusionment with the representative, parliamentary republics created in Western Europe through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
That diagnosis was not restricted to pacifists and democrats. Carl Schmitt asserted confidently in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (1923) that nineteenth-century liberal models of representative government inherited from John Stuart Mill and François Guizot had outlived their usefulness in a new age of mass politics, and only remained standing “through sheer mechanical perseverance as an empty apparatus.”
But how the problem that Schmitt called “the crisis of parliamentary democracy” was perceived beyond Europe and North America after 1918 still remains a largely untold story. In recent years, historians have uncovered the depth of interaction between subject peoples in the colonial world and the various political ideologies and institutional proposals circulating in Europe in the wake of the Great War. A notable example is Susan Pedersen’s exemplary study of petitions submitted to the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission by groups in the Middle East, the South Pacific, and south-western and eastern Africa, demanding political independence from imperial rule. A much less examined aspect of this period, though, is the orientation of anti-colonial thinkers and leaders towards the critiques of nation-state sovereignty and representative democracy consuming European political thought of the time. To put it differently, how were Hobson and Schmitt’s diagnoses of the post-WWI situation understood in Bombay or Cairo, instead of in London or Berlin? The point of such an inquiry is both to provide a more global historiography of the early twentieth-century crisis of parliamentarism and to better understand the full range of political thought precipitated by the crisis.
My recent research explores these themes through an examination of the rise of a normative challenge to representative democracy, particularly its nineteenth-century parliamentary variant, within Indian political thought between 1918 and 1928. My focus is on a group of historians and philosophers based at the north Indian universities of Allahabad and Lucknow and at the southern University of Mysore. Identifying themselves as political pluralists, these writers turned to pre-modern Indian history to unearth forms of classical republicanism and participatory law-making. Their books, pamphlets, and draft constitutions contained the earliest theories of direct democracy as a tangible constitutional ideal in modern South Asia.
By the mid-1910s, there was an established, well-organised nationalist movement in the Crown Territories of British India. For three decades, the Indian National Congress (INC) had been lobbying for political and economic reform within the empire. Politically, the INC sought the introduction of a parliamentary system elected through adult suffrage, modelled on the settler colonies of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Parliamentarism was seen both as a distinctively English achievement and, as an arrangement wherein only representatives deliberated and legislated, as the most effective way of selecting members of an educated, urban elite to govern in the interests of the wider population.
Thus, between 1885 and 1915, Dadabhai Naoroji, a key figure in the evolution of Indian nationalism, repeatedly defined the Indian demand for self-rule (swaraj) as an extension of parliamentary principles established in England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and imported to the satellite states of the Anglosphere by the late nineteenth century. Even as nationalist politics came to be divided between liberal and revolutionary camps from the first decade of the new century, the embrace of parliamentarism remained secure. For the revolutionary leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who constantly linked Indian nationalism with the struggles for Home Rule in Ireland and Egypt and was hailed by Lenin as a “democrat” in 1908, swaraj meant the election of members of political parties into self-governing representative institutions. For all the disagreement over tactics, early nationalist arguments in India converged on a view of popular self-government as an indirect electoral enterprise, exercised by a limited number of deputies on behalf of the citizenry.
From 1918, the nationalist attempt to mediate popular sovereignty through the established procedures of parliamentary representation provoked a reaction amongst a new group of writers who held a different understanding of swaraj. A key moment in the fracturing of the consensus around parliamentary government was the publication of Radhakumud Mookerji’s Local Government in Ancient India in 1919. Mookerji was born in rural Bengal in 1884 and trained as a historian at the University of Calcutta. The backdrop to his political formation was the upsurge of anti-British agitation in eastern India in 1905, known as the swadeshi movement, which highlighted to him the role of historical narratives in shaping anti-colonial nationalist politics. Radhakumud eventually settled at the University of Lucknow as Professor of Ancient Indian History.
Local Government in Ancient India was a strikingly presentist political book to have been written by an academic historian. Radhakumud challenged the Indian National Congress’ uncritical acceptance of parliamentary government. He insisted that WWI had made clear not only that parliamentary republics did not always express the full will of their people, but that representative institutions under the conditions of modern economic life, electioneering, and party politics could easily be co-opted by political and economic elites and interest groups. In seeking to transpose the nineteenth-century English system of electoral representation into India in the 1910s, the Congress was essentially introducing “self-rule from above,” leaving the power to make and amend law in the hands of a relatively small political class.
Radhakumud’s response was to turn to constitutional models from ancient and medieval South Asia. Relying on recent archival discoveries of Sanskrit and Pali-language treatises and archaeological inscriptions from southern India in the ninth and tenth centuries CE, Radhakumud made the claim that pre-modern Indian states had been elaborate federal structures consisting of semi-independent local jurisdictions overseen by a central monarchy. The jurisdictions themselves were governed by large citizens’ assemblies (sabha) consisting of adult house-holders; the sabha performed all legislative, executive, and judicial functions, and chose sub-committees for specialised functions on the basis of sortition.
Radhakumud was not the first modern Indian writer to give a republican re-interpretation of states which had frequently been denigrated in terms of either Oriental despotism or ungoverned anarchy, as in James Mill’s History of British India (1817). But Radhakumud was the first to consider a medieval federation of citizens’ assemblies as a viable political model for the twentieth century, as a real alternative to parliamentarism. Much to the chagrin of other historians, Radhakumud proposed that replicating a system of citizens’ assemblies provided a coherent model of direct democracy, much more participatory than the models of representative government espoused by the INC leadership.
Local Government in Ancient India went through two English editions in 1919 and 1920. Its core thesis was reproduced in a number of other Indian texts from the 1920s, including Brajendranath Seal’s Report on the Constitution of Mysore (1923), Radhakamal Mukerjee’s Democracies of the East (1923), and Beni Prasad’s A Few Suggestions on the Problem of the Indian Constitution (1928). Radhakamal Mukerjee’s Democracies of the East—from which I draw the title of this post—was the most detailed example of the genre. Radhakamal Mukerjee decried the nationalist acceptance of the English model of electoral representation, premised on suffrage, political parties, and parliamentary supremacy, as insufficiently democratic. Nationalist politics limited legislative sovereignty to “a certain small and well-defined class which packs and directs the assembly, and speaks in the name of the people.” Radhakamal accordingly presented the creation of directly democratic assemblies patterned on medieval Asian states as a way to overcome the structural hierarchies of sovereignty embedded within parliamentary government. As in Local Government in Ancient India, the reconstruction of pre-modern republicanism was a response to the perceived inability of parliamentary states to allow for wide political participation.
Democracies of the East framed its program of historical recovery as an attempt to avoid the fate of European parliamentary regimes during WWI—in particular the threat of unaccountable governance by a class of periodically elected political elites, the conversion of popular rule into the rule of a few. Indeed, Radhakamal Mukerjee saw his proposals as part of a wider trans-national backlash against statism and representative democracy between 1918 and 1923, praising movements such as syndicalism, pluralism, and guild socialism in Western Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, and beyond. Indian history was for him a repertoire of intellectual resources to aid these movements in the imagination of new democratic futures. He was especially drawn to the guild socialist G.D.H. Cole, aligning his own intellectual project with the latter’s attempts to revive medieval practices of self-management in associational life in lieu of electoral forms of labour politics. While there is no evidence that Democracies of the East was read in the British guild socialist circles around G.D.H. Cole, in the mid-1930s Radhakamal did travel to London to meet with Cole’s fellow pluralist Ernest Barker at the Institute of Sociology.
The Indian pluralists’ visions of participatory democracy remained academic experiments in the 1920s, never really taken up by political movements on the ground. By the late 1940s, the dominant constitutional paradigm in India came to be narrowed into a demand for sovereign statehood and parliamentary democracy. As John Dunn has argued, in such circumstances the mid-century transition from imperial rule was unable to be a truly transformative rupture with the state-form of representative democracy ubiquitous in Western Europe following the Second World War.
Given these subsequent developments, returning to the defeated democratic traditions emergent in the immediate aftermath of WWI in British India is an exercise of intellectual retrieval. It allows us to reconstruct the contours of a discourse and ideology at odds with the tradition of self-government which eventually triumphed with independence. The existence of the pluralist discourse indicates, above all, how the profound crisis of liberalism and modern democratic thinking that Carl Schmitt associated with the European 1920s was a global phenomenon stretching far beyond Europe.
In South Asia, these years were similarly an opening for thinkers to challenge the principles of representative government consolidated in the region’s political thought and practice by the 1910s—principles which, in the hands of nationalist leaders, would re-assert their dominance by the 1940s. The civilisational language that Indian pluralists adopted in their opposition to representative democracy—turning to an invented tradition of ‘Asian’ republicanism—was of course strikingly different from Schmitt or Hobson. Yet their turn to history was a response to similar underlying political dynamics, produced by a shared global moment of transformation and experimentation in theories of sovereignty and collective self-government.
 J.A. Hobson, Democracy after the War (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1917), 15.
 Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 21.
 Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
 Tejas Parasher, “Federalism, Representation, and Direct Democracy in 1920s India,” Modern Intellectual History (January 2021): 1-29. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/modern-intellectual-history/article/federalism-representation-and-direct-democracy-in-1920s-india/625B0116F57186A02ABE261B001012CE.
 Radhakumud Mookerji, Local Government in Ancient India, 1st ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1919).
 Radhakamal Mukerjee, Democracies of the East: A Study in Comparative Politics (London: P.S. King & Son, 1923), 356.
 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 340-41. Also see G.D.H. Cole, Self-Government in Industry (London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1918).
 Radhakamal Mukerjee, India: The Dawn of a New Era (An Autobiography) (New Delhi: Radha Publications, 1997), 166.
 John Dunn, Setting the People Free: The Story of Democracy, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), 154.
by Meir Hatina
The development of Islamic Studies during the twentieth century and beyond has found little favour with Islam as a religious phenomenon. The body of knowledge on Islam has expanded, and new genres based on new sources have gained momentum, such as social history, urban studies, public space, holy landscape, religious practices, gender, and the documentation and empowerment of subaltern voices (women, minorities, and slaves). But it seems that this wealth of scholarship has touched on Islam as a culture and civilisation, much less on Islam as religious thought, especially in terms of theology and jurisprudence, religion and state, jihad and martyrdom, war and the treatment of captives and non-combatants, international relations—issues that continue to provoke debates and polemics in the modern era as well.
The twentieth century witnessed a religious resurgence in all three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, depicted by sociologist Jose Casanova as the “de-privatisation” of religion and its return as a contentious issue to the public sphere. The Enlightenment project, which raised the banner of secularisation, confining religion to the private sphere, was contested, whereas manifestations of blasphemy remained on the sidelines. Thus, while modernity indeed constituted a significant challenge to the established faiths, it was also a fertile breeding ground for religious redefinition, innovation, and rejuvenation. In essence, modernisation had spawned new religious ideas, communities and movements. Some of these movements, like neo-evangelical Christianity, messianic Zionism, Israeli ultra-orthodoxy, or Islamists, questioned and often defied the prevailing “secular” order. In the Islamic milieu such defiance was accompanied by assertiveness, protest and violence, affecting intellectual and scholarly discourse, which also became dominated by rigid paradigms of tensions and antagonism among the Abrahamic creeds.
These paradigms lacked a comparative historical perspective and an awareness of the diversity of Islam and the complexity of interfaith encounters. One such paradigm, nurtured by post-colonial climate, was that of Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978), which accused Western discourse of harbouring demonic perceptions of Islam and the East as archaic and intolerant entities, in contrast to a rational and progressive West. The contribution of Orientalism to the craft of history and to Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies has been extensive. It has significantly altered the way we think, write and present the history of the peoples of Islam and the East by displaying sensitivity and empathy towards them. Orientalism heightened our awareness that non-Western societies can develop their own modernity without necessarily breaking away from indigenous identities and cultures—what Shmuel Eisenstadt called “multiple modernities.” Yet, in spite of its merits, Said’s concept precisely because of its sweeping assertions sharpened the dissonance between East and West and gave further impetus to the politics of identities. Orientalism portrayed a Western plot to uproot indigenous cultures, and it permeated not only Islamic protest movements, but also academic institutions in the Arab-Muslim world.
The rise of the “culture of criticism” (al-thaqafa al-naqdiyya), carried out by socialists and liberal circles, which challenged and even dismantled Islamic traditions and norms, has been largely marginalised in the Western scholarship. Rather, many researchers were preoccupied with political Islam or Islamism and its call for the restoration of past legacies.
Another paradigm that drew the attention of scholarly discourse in the early 1990s was Samuel Huntington’s book Clash of Civilizations (1996). It delineated a built-in tendency in Islam to violent conflict and to “bloody borders” between Muslims and non-Muslims, and demonised Islam as a religion of tyranny, intolerance and violence. The emergence of global jihad—especially in the wake of the September 11 attacks—played into Huntington’s thesis, creating a climate of cosmic war, of a permanent state of dissonance and confrontation.
The militancy image of Islam was reinforced by the rise of ISIS at the threshold of the twenty-first century and its chain of victories in Iraq and Syria. The question, posed by early Islamists in mid-twentieth century, as to whether there would be a revival of the religion of Muhammad has now been replaced by the question posed by global jihadists whether someone would be able to stand against the religion of Muhammad. Kasr al-hudud, namely the dismantling of geographical and political boundaries was ISIS’s driven force. This self-confidence mood was also reflected in ISIS’s English-language online magazine Dabiq, which opened one of its issues with the title “Break the Cross” and closed it with “By the Sword.” The cross had become a code phrase for the “new crusade,” which harboured humanity’s deviation from the path of God—such as democracy, liberalism, feminism, and atheism. It served as a trigger for violence as a purifying force.
Yet, even analysts who were not convinced of such paradigms as Orientalism and the Clash of Civilizations continued to focus on the political aspects of modern religious revival, while downplaying historical legacies and ignoring other, more ecumenical voices, in favour of such labels as “fundamentalism,” “puritanism,” “scripturalism” and “strong religion.” Accordingly, fundamentalism in world religions was explained in the five-volume Chicago Fundamentalist Project (1991–1995) as a product of pressures of modernity and reactions to these pressures: thus secularisation led to religious revivalism; the consolidation of feminist ideologies caused a backlash favouring modesty and family-based ideologies; and technology and free access to knowledge have led to religious confinement and censorship.
Neither Said’s Orientalism, nor Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, and nor the Chicago “Fundamentalism” project reflect the complex nature of interfaith encounters. Viewed from a historical perspective, civilisations were never fixed polities, but rather heterogeneous and diverse, with changing boundaries and intellectual orientations. Moreover, they were exposed to inner frictions, which at times overshadowed external conflicts with other cultures. This is true with regard to the religious wars in European history, as well as to clashes within Islamic societies, as the global jihad of al-Qaʿida and ISIS represented only one small radical fraction in a multifaceted Islamic spectrum.
On the Jewish-Christian axis recent years have witnessed an abundance of research reflecting a revived Christian interest in Jewish tradition, for example in Kabbalah. The revised scholarship has changed the long-standing stereotype of a monolithic divide between Judaism and Christianity in pre-modern times that was fed by sustained polemic traditions and modern anti-Semitism. It demonstrated the diverse nature of the study of Jewish esoteric lore among Christians, and, simultaneously, presented the Jews as agents of cultural transmission functioning within the framework of a wider society. The existence of a more diffused reality applies all the more to the multiethnic and culturally diverse Muslim world, where Jewish and Christian communities were influenced by Muslim values, norms and practices, and vice-versa, revealing deeply acculturated processes.
Approaching prevailing paradigms in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies as relative concepts that should be examined cautiously will highlight cross-cultural features and introduce a more constructive analysis of modern Islamic resurgence. Such an approach will also eschew a binary picture in favor of a diffuse reality of intertwined worlds: on the one hand, religions striving for the sole possession of revelation and holy places; and on the other, mutual recognition by religions of a shared background of myths, founding figures, injunctions, values, cosmology, social behaviour, and interactions across time and space.
Moving away from artificial precepts to examine more concrete communal realities, using sociological insights and fieldwork, is more productive and insightful. Thus, for example, many speak of religiosity and its manifestations in the public sphere. However, in the context of Islam in Israel, for instance, an increase in the number of mosques and welfare associations is clearly not a sufficient indication of the strength of the Islamic Movement and the degree of Islamisation of the Arab public domain. Public polls conducted in recent years among Muslims in Israel show that only 20% of the respondents indicated that religion should play an active role in the public sphere; the rest saw it as a moral and cultural code, and adopted a pluralistic approach to religion. Moreover, field studies conducted in mixed localities in which Muslims and Christians live, such as Haifa, Nazareth, and Kafr Qana, show cordial interethnic relations based on interpersonal and family acquaintances, joint activities in local institutions, and common interests related to their positions as minority groups vis-à-vis state authorities.
A similar picture of Islamisation as a relative process can be traced in the Middle Eastern environment. For example, with regard to the veil or head covering which stem from a social, not only a religious, trigger that allows women to move freely in public. In addition, opinion polls and interviews conducted in various Arab countries from the 2000s onward showed that a significant percentage of respondents, mainly young people, expressed a desire for the shielding of personal freedoms and the establishment of a democratic regime. Some of them even displayed indifference and skepticism to religion. These indicators, together with the different approaches regarding the place of Islam in the polity, are clear signs of religious diversity.
Perhaps it is, after all, not surprising that the Arab revolutions of 2011 (dubbed the “Arab Spring”), did not erupt on religious demands for the implementation of the shariʿa (Islamic law), but against the background of mundane issues, such as individual and civil rights, social justice, and democratisation. It is also plausible that the failure of the elected Muslim Brethren to promote these secular issues eventually brought on their downfall in 2013 only a year after they had gained power. The 2011 uprisings overturned entrenched research paradigms about the endurance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and the inherent submissiveness of the people. The Arab public space changed both its face and its historic role. It was no longer a background against which rulers projected their authority in public processions and official festivals, while the masses played a submissive role, cheering and granting them legitimacy. The demonstrators, led by educated and embittered youths, stormed the symbols of sovereignty of the Arab state, creating new modes of collective action. The dramatic events attested to a Middle East that was an integral part of the global village in terms of its exposure to modern technology, communication networks, and Western ideas.
The post-2011 scholarship was seemingly reorganising its patterns of thought, but this was not the case. Two years after the Arab revolutions, and in the shadow of civil wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and against the backdrop of the rise of ISIS, another paradigm emerged—the failed state. The failed state model refers to the breaking of the state’s authority, which is reinforced by the renewed vitality of ethnic, religious, tribal, and regional identities. Hence, ethnic-religious sectarianism became a central component of the Middle Eastern landscape and provided a platform for bloody confrontations. This conclusion seems too sweeping, and completely eliminates 100 years of state-building project in the Arab world, which witnessed the consolidation of geographical borders and the construction of national identity, even if feeble one.
Critical review of prevailing paradigms in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies does not aim to draw firm conclusions, but only to highlight the importance of having a historical and sociological perspective. Historical monitoring will keep us from falling into essentialist concepts, such as “Islam is the religion of the sword” or “the army of shrouds,” referring to suicide bombers. Of course, one cannot ignore society’s formative ethos and judicial rulings anchored in classical texts, but one must closely examine their historical evolution and the new interpretations that have permeated them. After all, social agents and movements play a crucial role in remoulding of the “truth” of scriptures, in accordance with the circumstances and aspirations of their time.
 José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), mainly chapters 1, 8.
 Said, Orientalism (new ed., London: Penguin, 2003).
 S N. Eisenstadt, "Multiple Modernities," Daedalus 129/1 (2000): 1–29.
 Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), mainly 254–265.
 Dabiq, 1437 Shawwal, no. 15. In: http://clarionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/islamic-state-magazine-dabiq-fifteen-breaking-the-cross.pdf
 Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (eds.), The Fundamentalist Project (University of Chicago Press, 1991-1995).
 Muhammad al-Atawneh and Nohad Ali, Islam in Israel: Muslim Communities in Non-Muslim States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 73-101; Muhammad al-Atawneh and Meir Hatina, "The Study of Islam and Muslims in Israel," Israeli Studies 24/3 (Fall 2019), 101-125.
 Brian Whitaker, Arabs without God: Atheism and Freedom of Belief in the Middle East (California: Createspace, 2014).
 Kobi Michael and Yoel Guzansky, "The Nation State vs. the Failed State and the Arab Upheaval in the Middle East,” in Vladimir Sazonov et al (eds.), Cultural Crossroads in the Middle East (Tartu: University of Tartu Press, 2019), 220-235.
 Meir Hatina, Martyrdom in Modern Islam: Piety, Power and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
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.