Global Peace Index Makes Marginal Gain

93 countries have become more peaceful, 68 deteriorating due to war, violence, terrorism

An aerial view shows the Bab al-Salama camp, set up outside the Syrian city of Azaz on Syria's northern border with Turkey
An aerial view shows the Bab al-Salama camp, set up outside the Syrian city of Azaz on Syria's northern border with Turkey / Getty Images
June 7, 2017

Sixty-eight countries in the world are deteriorating from war, violence, and terrorism, with over 65 million refugees now driven from their homes, nearly double what the number was a decade ago. And yet, according to speakers at the presentation of the annual Global Peace Index, the world in 2017 is "slightly more peaceful" than it was a year ago, and the condition of global peace is marginally better.

The 11th annual Global Peace Index was presented this Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

Michelle Breslauer, a program director at the Institute for Economics and Peace, gave a brief overview of what could be found in the new Global Peace Index. The researchers for the index compiled statistics on 163 countries, looking at war, revolution, murders, terrorist acts, and public perception of safety.

Iceland, according to the report, ranks as the most peaceful country in the world (as it has since 2008), joined near the top by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark. Syria remained at the end of the index, the least peaceful nation on earth, with Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen nearly as bad. Breslauer said 93 countries had become more peaceful, to counterbalance the 68 countries that have worsened.

The United States, Breslauer said, had fallen 11 places in the ranking to 103, mostly because of its murder rate and the increased fear of terrorism among its citizens. To carry on the work of the groups that try to increase world peace, she concluded, would require $47 billion, with current budgets adding up to only $8 billion.

Another panelist, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, focused on issues of armed conflict, accountability, legal reform, migrant workers, and political rights. Whitson said in her presentation that the Middle East was a "disappointing reality." She continued, however, that an underappreciated cause was weapons from foreign arms-makers, which are "essentially a cancer." The Middle East will not be any better next year, she concluded. It will, in fact, probably be worse.

Mark L. Schneider, a senior adviser at CSIS, spoke of corruption as a channel for violence to enter a society, with Brazil as a prime example. Overall, the violence that comes from financial corruption of governments has decreased slightly in the past year.

Heather Hurlburt, director of the New Models of Policy Change initiative at the New America Foundation, used her segment of the panel discussion to warn against oversimplification. One of the reasons for the low ranking of the United States, she pointed out, is the perception of Americans that they are at great risk of being injured or killed by terrorist attacks, although the actual incidence is low. The interconnectedness of the United States and the world helps create the risk, but it also provides the channels by which peace can be advanced.

Overall, the panel concluded, this 11th annual report on global peace offered some grounds for optimism, but not many.