WASHINGTON - The world has become a slightly more dangerous place in the past year, said the new Global Peace Index (GPI) released Tuesday, which points to the economic crisis as the main factor.
As the global economy headed into recession in 2008, many of the indicators used by the GPI to measure peace, such as the likelihood of violent demonstrations and political stability, increased, while others, such as respect for human rights, decreased.
"There is a clear correlation between the economic crisis and the decline in peace," said Clyde McConaghy, president of the GPI from the Institute for Economics and Peace.
"This confirms that there is a real-world economic value for peace. It creates an environment where it is easier for workers to produce, business to sell, entrepreneurs and scientists to innovate and governments to regulate, and that in turn creates wealth," he said.
Other causes include the intensification of violent conflict in some countries, and the effects of rapidly rising food and fuel prices early in 2008.
The GPI, the first ever study to rank the nations of the world by their peacefulness and to identify potential drivers of peace, was founded by Steve Killelea, an Australian international technology entrepreneur and philanthropist. It forms part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank dedicated to the relationship between economic development, business and peace.
This year the GPI ranked 144 nations, up from 140 in 2008, according to their ‘absence of violence.' The nations are assigned a number between one and five, with one being the most peaceful and five being the least. The average score for the nations surveyed in the 2009 GPI is 1.964.
New Zealand ranks as most peaceful, moving up from fourth place last year, followed by Denmark and Norway, tied for second place. Iceland, which was first in last year's GPI, moved to fourth place due to violence that erupted after the economic crisis.
Small, stable and democratic countries are consistently ranked highest; 14 of the top 20 countries are Western or Central European countries.
The U.S. jumped six spots to 83rd.
"The six-point jump is partially because of an improvement in the indicator for potential terrorist acts in the United States and the general decrease in other countries' rankings relative to the United States," said Leo Abruzzese, director of country and economic research for North America at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which calculated the GPI data.
"But although the United States saw in increase in ranking despite the economic crisis, some factors, such as the ease of access to weapons, a large prison population, and ongoing combat deaths, prevent it from ranking higher this year," he added.
For the third year running, the country ranked least at peace is Iraq. Afghanistan and Somalia, countries that are in a state of ongoing conflict and upheaval, follow.
Bosnia and Herzegovina saw the biggest improvement this year, up 23 spots to 50th place. Madagascar saw the biggest fall in ranking, 30 places, amid mounting political instability and violent demonstrations. Angola, up 16 spots this year, has consistently improved each year for the three years of the GPI.
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The GPI is composed of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, selected by an international panel of experts, including academics and leaders of peace institutions. The indicators combine internal and external measures of peacefulness, ranging from the percentage of a nation's population in jail and level of organized crime, to a nation's level of military expenditure and the level of respect for human rights.
"Peace is a prerequisite for survival in the 21st century as we know it," said McConaghy at an event announcing the GPI results on Tuesday. "(It) is a concrete aim that can be measured and valued, not just in social terms but in economic terms."
The international panel of experts that oversees the compilation of the GPI chose to include five additional countries in the 2009 edition: Burundi, Georgia, Guyana, Montenegro and Nepal. The 144 countries covered encompass almost 99 percent of the world's population and over 87 percent of the planet's land mass.
Hong Kong was dropped in response to queries about its status as a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China. While Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy, foreign affairs and defence are the responsibility of China's authorities in Beijing.
Another change was the removal of two indicators featured in the GPIs of 2007 and 2008: the measures of U.N. and non-U.N. deployments.
The former was dropped because it was generally felt that it was not a sufficiently accurate measure of a commitment from countries to U.N. peacekeeping missions. The indicator of non-U.N. deployments was initially included on the assumption that a country deploying troops overseas cannot be considered free of violence.
However, members of the panel of experts acknowledged that the indicator is potentially ambiguous.
By continuing the rankings annually, the developers and proponents of the GPI hope to show trends that can advise government's and organisations on the best ways to attain peace.
In its policy recommendations the Institute for Economics and Peace calls on governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to include the building of peace capabilities at the community level in all the development assistance programmes they are supporting.
Governments and universities are asked to fund peace specific studies and research in the major disciplines, and business associations should form committees to work with their governments to improve the peacefulness in their key markets.
Harriet Fulbright, president of the Fulbright Centre and a speaker at the unveiling of the 2009 GPI, announced a new conference sponsored by the Fulbright Centre to "heighten awareness of the GPI." The Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations will take place in November and bring together the first and second most peaceful nations from nine regions in the world to "discuss their peacefulness."
The GPI is endorsed by prominent individuals including Nobel Laureates Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the Dalai Lama; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; and former Secretary-General of the U.N. Kofi Annan.
The GPI will be presented at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Jun. 5.