Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.
The world has become slightly less peaceful over the last year, but here in the Americas, we have become distinctly more peaceful.
Recently the Forbes top-20 most peaceful countries has shown up on my social media feed. Being a statistics nerd, I have taken a deeper look and may draw a few conclusions.
The comprehensive report on world peace is researched and published by the Institute for Economics & Peace and may be visited at www.visionofhumanity.org. The 2016 Global Peace Index is the culmination of ten-years of reports and from what I can see, the data gathering in acceptably neutral and effective.
In order to draw its conclusions, the Institute for Economics & Peace measures and weighs 23 indicators. The most obvious are direct conflicts – both internal and external. Other clear indicators include involvement in foreign conflicts, political and economic stability, incarceration, arms trade and natural disasters.
Conclusions must been seen in their whole, but can indeed be justified and quantified.
I see one specific challenge to these many reports and lists of ‘best & worst places’ – size! Not the size of the reports (they are easy to read), rather the countries studied. There are around 195 sovereign countries in the world – some small, others huge.
This year’s most peaceful country is tiny Iceland, perched out in the North Atlantic. I love Iceland, have led several tours there and plan to return. From the 2008 collapse of its banking infrastructure, to a remarkable recovery, this free-spirited, yet heavily socialized state is indeed a model. Yet it would be obtuse to directly compare Iceland’s 330k in habitants to China’s 1.3 billion.
Equally it may well be worth examining the entire European Union as a whole (excluding Britain) when drawing comparisons with the United States – at least in terms of economy, peace and military activities.
The top-10 is as follows: 1. Iceland, 2. Denmark (often rated the ‘happiest’ country) 3. Austria 4. New Zealand 5.Portugal 6.Czech Republic 7. Switzerland (although, so much blood-money is hidden there), 8. Canada, 9. Japan & 10. Slovenia (notably weak on other human rights issues)
Among this list, only Japan (127 million inhabitants), is really a ‘large’ country (and the only one I have not visited – stay tuned in 2017).
Canada’s 35 million is also very significant as Canada is arguably the most ethnically diverse country on earth and is a member of the G8, with a highly trade-dependant economy.
As a whole, Europe remains the most peaceful region on the planet, but recent trends in Poland (reactionary politics) and Ukraine (being ripped apart) have created greater instability.
Turkey, which sits very much among Eastern Europe, greater Asia and the Middle East, has recently survived a coup and has two of the least peaceful countries (Syria and Iraq) on its borders.
Normally peaceful Britain (in the recent post-colonial age) has contributed greatly to instability with its BREXIT vote and France too has suffered serious violence and the rise of very reactionary politics. This is measured by increased police and military presence (both within national territory and abroad) and the threat of serious political strife (the UK may split up) as well as specific radical attacks on French soil.
Terrorism is occurring with more frequency, but not necessarily globally. The overwhelming rise in terror is occurring in the Middle East and North Africa. Shockingly high rates of violence in Mexico, Brazil and even the United States are almost entirely home grown.
The bottom 5, least peaceful countries on our planet are: 159. Somalia, 160. Afghanistan, 161. Iraq, 162. South Sudan & 163. Syria.
This is tragically revealing. 13 years on from the ill-planned and ill-advised ‘regime-change’ invasion on Iraq, that country remains in horrible and violent turmoil. The death rate is shocking. Afghanistan too. After the Cold War Soviet invasion the Taliban regime was violent a oppressive. The subsequent invasion has offered little stability and massive violence.
The Syrian conflict has simmered since the Cold-War. Its descent into violent anarchy is a by-product of the Iraq war.
- All of these countries are Muslim-majority and all were with British or French colonies.
- There are two Christian-majority countries in the bottom 10 – Ukraine (Russia is in the bottom 20) and Central African Republic.
- The least peaceful country in Asia Pacific is North Korea.
- In the America’s the least peaceful country is Colombia, but as peace takes in that long-troubled country, it will soon be passed by Venezuela and Mexico.
- Venezuela, may yet emerge peacefully from its populist and corrupt economic collapse, but must me watched.
- Mexico’s internal gang / drug / corruption related violence will likely continue for some time, resulting in the flow north of desperate people who easily find undocumented work.
- The most peaceful country in South America is Chile. Uruguay is also worth a mention for being very peaceful! Both of these countries have much lower levels of corruption and higher investment in education and social services.
The Big Countries
The most populous countries on earth are rated:
120. China, 141. India, 103. United States of America, 42. Indonesia, 105. Brazil, 153. Pakistan, 83. Bangladesh 151. Russia, 149. Nigeria, 9. Japan
According to the United Nations Refugee Organization (UNHCR), there are between 16 million and 21 million refugees (depending principally on the status of Palestinians). Other estimate suggest the number is much higher, when we include displaced and economic refugees. As a core number, 54% of all current refugees come from Syria (4.9m), Afghanistan (2.7m) & Somalia (1.1m). Refugees are overwhelming sheltered in the middle east (Turkey & Jordan) and Ethiopia.
In Europe, Germany offers the most support and in the Americas, Canada. Australia has drastically reduced support for refugees.
Due to the increase in violence and outright war in much of the Middle East, refugee numbers have spiked in correlation with other indicators.
A Few Conclusions
Despite a recent spike in conflicts, terror and statistical instability (principally civil and regional), large areas of the world are safer than in previous generations.
The steady descent of much of the Middle East and North Africa into shocking violence has occurred since the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions of 2003. Sadly, there is no end is sight to this quagmire of misery.
All countries are obliged to offer support to refugees according to the many post World War 2 treaties which were developed after the atrocities enacted during that war.
An interesting observation is that population density does not appear to have a direct correlation to peace. The Happiness Index seems to favour wealthier, less densely populated countries, whereas this peace study appears more nuanced. As this study embraces much more of the global population, there is a more applicable element to many of its conclusions.
A Brighter Note
The Americas have become overwhelmingly more stable. Argentina has moved away from an economic crisis. Colombia is looking towards peace and Mexico is confronting its incredibly violent cartels.
Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on Earth, is in fact quite peaceful. Japan is an absolute success story given its condition at the end of WW2, but it could do far more for migrants.
Russia’s relationship with its own population and many of its neighbours is worrisome. Brazil, too, is experiencing a shaky economy and the endemic violence in its ghettos (Favelas) is being exposed to the world with the World Cup and the Olympics.
Political instability in Europe has increased in the region’s normally stable western flank with the BREXIT vote and the rise of the populous right in France, the Netherlands and Austria.
The United State’s rather low ranking is due to huge military involvement in other countries, internally-driven high rates of gun violence and incarceration. The very scary populist rhetoric lead by Donald Trump places blame where it simply does not come from. His rages against trade and multi-lateral relations contribute greatly to global insecurity as the US remains the largest single economy.
The good news is that over the last two years, the USA has become moderately ‘more peaceful’ – this is an achievement after so many years of war.
Signs of Success
While there are certain themes shared by all the most stable countries, there are also vast cultural differences.
Signs of peace are noted in countries with:
- Low levels of corruption
- Higher education
- Higher taxation
- Tolerance & Acceptance
- High rates of public investment
- Lower rates of incarceration
- Political Stability
- Higher secularism
Quote from the report:
“While the global economic impact of violence dropped by 2% when compared to last year’s report, it was still a staggering $13.6 trillion in 2015, equivalent to 11 times the size of global foreign direct investment. This represents 13.3% of world GDP, or $1,876 per person. In the last ten years the economic impact of violence was $137 trillion; greater than global GDP in 2015.”
Within the top 30, Europe clearly dominates, but is by no means the only stable region. Canada & Australia are both examples of successful – and peaceful – immigrant-based multicultural societies.
Malaysia and Mauritius are both Muslim majority and Bhutan is very rural and Buddhist.
Chile has the least corrupt police force in Latin America and healthy political debate.
There are always local, regional and national elements at play, but overall, it would appear peace occurs when money is spent on citizen’s well being and not war.
It would also appear the wars in the Middle East have proven to be disastrous to global stability and the threat of new conflicts between Russia and west are concerning.
Clearly the fear of ‘terrorism’ outside of active war zones is exaggerated.
I will continue to travel most of our world and certainly look forward to enjoying peace and stability in regions that have suffered conflict for many years.