The United States has fallen 10 spots in the last three years in the Global Peace Index, driven by a high degree of militarization and a rising homicide rate.
Iceland was named the most peaceful country in the world for the 15th consecutive year in the annual ranking compiled by the Institute for Economics & Peace on Wednesday, while the organization warned that militarization in the United States is steadily making the wealthiest country in the world less peaceful.
In its 2023 Global Peace Index, the group ranked 163 countries where 99.7% of the world's population lives, determining how countries compare based on the level of "societal safety and security," "ongoing domestic and international conflict," and the degree of "militarization."
Iceland had low rankings for each of the three categories and maintained its place at the top of the list, which it's held every year the IEP has released the index. An increase in the country's homicide rate and the arrest of four people last year over a plot to attack several Icelandic politicians resulted in a 4% decline in its overall score, but "Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the region and the world," according to the index.
The United States, on the other hand, has declined every year during the current decade, falling two places in the past year and 10 places since 2020.
The change from 2022's index was "was driven by a deterioration on the safety and security domain," reads the report, "particularly in the perceptions of criminality and homicide rate indicators."
The U.S. homicide rate is "now above six per 100,000 people and more than six times higher than most Western European countries," according to the IEP.
The nation's epidemic of gun violence—and policymakers' refusal to impose strict regulations on gun ownership—has become well-known throughout the world, with Amnesty International issuing a travel warning due to the crisis in 2019. Gun violence replaced vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death in children in the U.S. in 2022.
The U.S. ranked close to the middle of the 163 countries in terms of societal safety and security. Its lowest ranking was in the category of militarization, a pattern that has been evident in the IEP's previous Global Peace Indexes.
The country was behind only Russia and Israel in terms of its degree of militarization this year. In 2022 it also ranked just behind North Korea, but this year militarization trends in the United States were found to be intensifying more rapidly.
The index's militarization domain takes into consideration indicators including weapons imports, nuclear and heavy weapons, and military expenditures. The United States' absolute spending on its military increased by $70 billion over the past year, the IEP noted.
The U.S. ranked below numerous countries which have been subject to travel warnings from the U.S. State Department, with officials warning of terrorism and high crime rates.
Iceland does not maintain armed forces or have a military budget and—like other high-ranking countries on the peace index such as Denmark and New Zealand—it invests heavily in social services, education, and healthcare to benefit all residents.
The index notes that high-ranking countries tend to prioritize guaranteed human rights and freedoms for all residents, the free flow of information, and "equitable distribution of resources."
While ranking at the top of the list of countries that have maintained a peaceful environment, high-performing countries in the index have also been recognized in recent years for other successes.
Denmark was found to have the world's second-best public healthcare system by U.S. News and World Report in 2022, and Iceland was named the third-healthiest country in the world by the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index in 2019.
Both countries were also ranked in the top three happiest countries last year by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.