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female soldier holds the Brazilian flag during the Brazilian independence parade in the city of Salvador, Bahia in 2023 ;

Brazil and the ZOPACAS: An overview of Brazil's interests in the South Atlantic's zone of peace and cooperation

Dr Maísa Edwards

Joint International Relations PhD, King's College London & University of São Paulo

06 October 2023

The Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZOPACAS) was established on 27 October 1986 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) via its founding Declaration, A/Res/41/11. This Declaration has seven preambulatory and seven operative clauses, which detailed the various commitments of the newly-created maritime zone of peace.

Established in the final decade of the Cold War, the ZOPACAS has since served as an important instrument in the advancement of peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic region.

The ZOPACAS currently has twenty-four member states. Three members are situated in South America and twenty-one members are in Africa: 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.

Thus far, there have been eight ministerial meetings convened since the establishment of the ZOPACAS in 1986. They have served to discuss the developing agenda of the zone, especially with regard to important issues, such as peacebuilding, security and development in the South Atlantic. Rio de Janeiro (1988), Abuja (1990), Brasilia (1994), Somerset West (1996), Buenos Aires (1998), Luanda (2007), Montevideo (2013) and Mindelo (2023) are all milestones in the ZOPACAS’ evolving status as a mechanism to foster closer cooperation in the region.

The most recent ministerial meeting, in Cape Verde in April 2023, took place following a ten-year period of relative dormancy for the ZOPACAS. However, following actions undertaken mainly by Brazil, one of the leading member states of the zone, the ZOPACAS has now entered a period of revitalisation. A shared commitment to maintaining peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic, by Brazil and its fellow member states, has been vital in securing the endurance of the ZOPACAS. Furthermore, this has been one of the main motivations behind the convening of its ministerial meetings, which have discussed noteworthy topics such as the protection of the environment, drug control; humanitarian assistance; trade and industry; the sharing of intelligence and technological cooperation; as well as the promotion of peace and denuclearisation. These have formed most of the significant and longstanding collective goals of the ZOPACAS member states.

Brazil's interest in the ZOPACAS

Brazil’s more recent focus on the ZOPACAS is evidenced in its official defence documents, such as the Plano Estratégico da Marinha (Naval Strategy Plan) and the Política Nacional de Defesa (National Defence Policy), both issued in 2020. The Naval Strategy Plan 2040 includes a twenty year outlook for the Brazilian Navy and details the country’s numerous maritime interests. There exists a clear mention of the ZOPACAS in these documents, with a view of the need to consolidate the ZOPACAS and avoid the interference of illegitimate interests, principally understood as extra-regional state actors in the South Atlantic region. Such statements by the Brazilian Ministry of Defence indicate what can be considered as part of a pursuit to advance military interests in the South Atlantic. It is also noteworthy to mention that the issuing of these 2020 defence documents took place in the same year as when the ZOPACAS was mentioned in former President Bolsonaro’s speech at the opening of the UNGA in September 2020.

Brazil’s interests in the South Atlantic have therefore, among others, included the promotion of peace and cooperation and a commitment to nuclear disarmament. This has been the case whilst Brazil has simultaneously pursued the strengthening of its naval, military, and diplomatic position in the region.

Current security challenges in the South Atlantic region include the rising levels in piracy and drug-trafficking in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as the threats posed by extra-regional state actors, and non-state actors in the South Atlantic. The ZOPACAS, viewed predominantly as an instrument to maintain peace in the South Atlantic and further diplomatic and defence cooperation, is now also firmly part of Brazil’s defence agenda. Mindelo (2023), albeit arguably delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, can now serve to help address these pressing regional security concerns and combat current threats to peace in the South Atlantic.

As a zone of peace which illustrates South-South and bi-continental cooperation, the ZOPACAS should therefore continue to be a principal mechanism to discuss and ultimately resolve regional threats and promote peace in the region. A shared aspiration for the advancement of peace and cooperation led to the establishment of the ZOPACAS in 1986. Accordingly, currently and moving forward, the zone should still be perceived as relevant in conversations regarding Brazil, peace, security and the South Atlantic.

Further reading

  • Edwards, M & Bonavita, M. (2023). Brazil and India take center stage in shaping dynamics of the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean region. KCL Forward Thinking Series.
  • Edwards, M. (2023). When defence drives foreign policy: Brazilian military agency in the revitalisation of the ZOPACAS. Conflict, Security & Development Journal.
  • Edwards, M. (2021). The ZOPACAS: A return to prominence?. Ideology Theory Practice.
  • Edwards, M & De Carvalho, V. M. (2020). Brazil, between the ZOPACAS and NATO. Revista Estratégica - Centro de Análise Estratégica da CPLP.

About the author

Dr Maísa Edwards holds a Joint International Relations PhD from King’s College London (KCL) and the University of São Paulo. Her doctoral research focused on Brazil, the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZOPACAS) and the South Atlantic region. She has an MSc Brazil in Global Perspective from KCL and a BA(Hons) French and Spanish from University College London.

Maísa is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Departments of War Studies and European & International Studies at King's, and a policy researcher at the think-tank ResPublica. Maísa also has a keen interest in multilingual and multicultural literature and has run the 'Talk Books With ME' (@talk_books_with_me) project since February 2021.

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Maísa Edwards

Maísa Edwards

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