Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Global Peace Index

121. Iraq. 120. Sudan. 119. Israel. 118. Russia. 117. Nigeria. 116. Colombia. 115. Pakistan. 114. Lebanon. 113. Cote d' Ivoire. 112. Angola. 111. Sri Lanka. 110. Uzbekistan. 109 India. 108. Myanmar. 107 Algeria. 106. Zimbabwe. 105. Thailand. 104. Uganda. 103. Ethiopia. 102. Venezuela. 101. Azerbaijan. 99. Philippines. 99. South Africa. 98. Honduras. 97. Iran.

These are the top 25 least peaceful countries, according to the Global Peace Index.

The United States missed the 25 most troubled countries list by one; we rank number 96. Norway ranks as the most peaceful country at number 1, followed by New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland and Japan.

The Global Peace Index is the brainchild of Steve Killelea, an Australian information technology entrepreneur turned Buddhist philanthropist. Reaching out from its Australian roots, the project has collected endorsements from Archbishop Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and the Dalai Lama.

A team of economists and social scientists created a statistical model of peacefulness in nations and found the data to assess it from all over the world. Some of the least developed countries of the world simply don't offer enough data to make it possible to include them, so the rankings would change somewhat if it were possible to add in such states as the Central African Republic and Nepal. A fuller discussion of methodology can be downloaded here. It's pretty interesting.

As with all indexes of this type, there are issues of bias and arbitrariness in the factors that are chosen to assess peacefulness and, even more seriously, in assigning weights to the different indicators (measured on a comparable and meaningful scale) to produce a single synthetic measure.

The GPI consists of 24 indicators, of which five relate to conflict and propensity to conflict. ... Ten of the indicators in the GPI assess the levels of safety and security in a society (country), ranging from the level of distrust in other citizens, to the level of respect for human rights and the rate of homicides and violent crimes. ... Nine of the indicators in the GPI are related to a country's military build-up -- reflecting the assertion that the level of militarization and access to weapons is directly linked to how at peace a country feels internationally.

The overall composite score and index was then formulated by applying a weight of 60 percent to the measure of internal peace and 40 percent for external peace. The heavier weight applied to internal peace was agreed within the advisory panel, following robust debate. The decision was based on the innovative notion that a greater level of internal peace is likely to lead to, or at least correlate with, lower external conflict -- in other words, if "charity begins at home" -- so might peace.

This is the sort of stuff that is easy to argue about -- and ridicule. But the GPI's conclusions are interesting:

... it is clear that small, stable and democratic countries are the most peaceful -- 15 of the top 20 countries are western or central European democracies. Most of them are members of a regional supranational and intergovernmental organization, the European Union. Four Scandinavian countries are in the top ten, with Sweden in seventh place in spite of its armaments industry and relatively high score for the exports of weapons. Island nations generally fare well. ...

Three of the world's major military-diplomatic powers (the European Union could be considered the 4th) score relatively badly overall, with China at 60th, the United States at 96th and Russia at 118th. The United States could be seen to be suffering for [imposing] a Pax Americana with very high levels of military expenditure and engagement beyond its borders -- effectively acting as a global policeman. However, it also suffers internally with the highest jailed population (as a proportion of the population) out of the 121 countries and comparatively high levels of homicides per 100,000 people for a developed country.

A few of my own observations derived from a pleasant couple of hours clicking around in the data:
  • It's hard for someone who remembers the other September 11, the 1973 coup in Chile overthrowing that nation's democracy, to believe that the South American country now ranks 16th in peacefulness.
  • Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua all now rank as more peaceful than their tormentor of the 1980s, the United States.
  • Despite the project's Australian origins, that country only come in number 25.
  • As far as I can tell, no variable measuring either a country's impact on global sustainability or a country's vulnerability to climate change is captured anywhere in the rankings. Given the likely impact of resource and climate change conflicts, I think something is missing here.
  • Five of the world's nuclear weapons possessing states -- Israel, Russia, Pakistan, India, and the United States -- are among the least peaceful quartile. China, the United Kingdom and France are somewhere in the middle of the rankings. North Korea is not ranked.
There are vast quantities of fascinating data expressed in these rankings. If there are any other statistics nerds reading this, take a look.


Chuck Blanchard said...


Thanks for this post. I think there is some very interesting data here. I wish, however, that the Global Peace Index had separated the internal and external indicators. I think that would have helped iluninate the data.

Here is the problem--many of the countries with very good scores are under the security umbrella of the United States. These countries have very low defense budgets, largely because they rely on the US for much of their defense. As a result, their scores are made artificially lower and the Us is made artificially high.

Now it appears that the US internal scores would still make it score low (and the involvement in Iraq certainly puts us low on the external peace front), but I do think this point needs to be factored in.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks for the comment Chuck. It made me think about the US "security umbrella." That would make a certain amount of sense if we assume that the threats to the security of the under-militarized states were from other states. I simply don't see that in the contemporary world. Among the less peaceful states, there is a good deal of that: India and Pakistan come to mind; as does the US preemptive war on Iraq. North Korea might threaten South Korea -- but also might be successfully bought off.

But, since the end of the Cold War, most of the demilitarized states don't face states which threaten them -- insofar as they face any real threat at all it is from non-state actors. They don't rely on the US for that defense -- at least I hope not as so far we've repeatedly created failed states (Afghanistan and Iraq) that export terrorists.

Because I don't think the US faces any state military threats, I'm pretty sure we could probably cut what we spend on the military close to in half: just drop all the futuristic hardware boondoggles (F-22, new carriers, Star Wars, a new generation of nukes etc.) and invest in creating internal conditions which create more peaceful lives for our population.

All old arguments this. :-)

Nell said...

Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua all now rank as more peaceful than their tormentor of the 1980s, the United States.

Even with El Salvador's horrific crime rate and sending a contingent to fight in Iraq...

Left candidate leading in the Guatemalan presidential race (and check out the acronym of Rigoberta Menchu's party. Hmmm....)

via Justin Delacour

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