ASEAN: still the zone of peace, freedom and neutrality?

Laura Southgate*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) pursuit for a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) first began during the Cold War, at a time of intense superpower rivalry in Southeast Asia. ASEAN reaffirmed the importance of this principle in 2020, amid growing concerns of instability in the Asia-Pacific region as a result of increasing tensions between the United States (US) and China. Through an examination of the ZOPFAN principle, this paper seeks to develop a greater understanding of ASEAN’s ability to respond to periods of geopolitical crisis and Great Power rivalry. It asks whether a ZOPFAN in Southeast Asia has ever been successfully realised, and what is the likelihood of one being achieved in the future. As analysis of recent security challenges will show, ZOPFAN falls short as both a framework for regional security and as an expression of regional autonomy. This raises serious questions about ASEAN’s coherence in the post-Cold War era, and its ability to uphold regional order in light of renewed Great Power security competition.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Science
Early online date27 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Autonomy
  • China
  • Neutrality
  • United States
  • Zopfan


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