What's Wrong with Being the World's Most Peaceful Country?

As a New Zealander, I was both delighted
and concerned to discover that my country is considered the most
peaceful in the world by the 2010 Global Peace Index (GPI), a publication
developed by an international panel of peace experts in collaboration
with the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

As a New Zealander, I was both delighted
and concerned to discover that my country is considered the most
peaceful in the world by the 2010 Global Peace Index (GPI), a publication
developed by an international panel of peace experts in collaboration
with the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

On one hand, I think the world needs initiatives like this. The
study's founder, Steve Killelea calls the GPI "a wake-up call for
leaders around the globe", and I hope he is right. But, given the
factors it examines-such as levels of violence and crime within a
country, plus military expenditure and wars-the GPI unfortunately
glosses over some interesting realities.

First, if you do believe peace can be achieved at the end of a gun,
it unfairly vilifies countries like the United States who, though they
account for 54 percent of global military spending, tend to use this
spending to ensure the "peace" of their allies and neighbors. So
countries sheltering under the military wings of a world power can
happily slide up the index by letting the US (and the other top
spenders like Russia, the UK, France and China) slide down.

Being a strong believer in nonviolent solutions to conflict
resolution, I commend the GPI for bringing people's attention to the
scale of military spending by these countries. Most of the time I think
what the US would call "ensuring peace, freedom and stability," is
just another name for exploitation and empire-building. Unfortunately,
the beneficiaries of this so-called "peace" are never challenged about
their complicity in global conflict.

And complicit we are.

The New Zealand government sent troops to support the US-led
invasion of Afghanistan immediately after the September 11, 2001
attacks. They have been there ever since. According to Jonathan Steele
of The Guardian between 20,000 and 49,600 people may have died
of the consequences of the invasion. It is estimated that in
Afghanistan there are 1.5 million suffering from immediate starvation,
as well as 7.5 million suffering as a result of the country's dire
situation.

No matter. The NZ government uses rhetoric about "security" and
"fighting terrorism" as a justification for the continued involvement
of the NZDF (Defense Force). The language used by the government
creates the image of altruistic action by the military. Soldiers are
"peacekeepers" sent to do "reconstruction"-which obscures the reality
that the Afghani government was installed by the US for economic
reasons. It was only after the media revealed that the NZSAS (Special
Air Service) was there that the government admitted to their
involvement. They loudly trumpet the "reconstruction team" as
"humanitarian aid" when in fact they are there to prop up the US
military occupation.

A few years later, many of the New
Zealand public watched in horror as the US invaded Iraq alongside the
United Kingdom and smaller contingents from Australia and Poland. When
this invasion first occurred, Kiwi activists organized some colorful
protests and marches to raise awareness, which further bolstered the
general anti-US sentiment in the country. Our Government at the time
assured us we wouldn't be involved in the war, and reassured by that
fact, we allowed ourselves to sit back and busy ourselves again with
the important business of disliking everything American.

How wrong we were. Research
by investigative journalist Nicky Hager
makes it clear that our
very own Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) have been
heavily focused on supporting the US War on Terror since September 11,
2001. When the US switched it's attention to Iraq, so did we. It seems
while New Zealand sits happy at number one on the GPI, our own tax
dollars are funding an intelligence operation that supports the very
same wars we once condemned. We have become, unwittingly, a vital cog
in the intelligence grabbing that so erroneously frames the crimes against humanity
being perpetrated in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere by the United
States of America.

And that's only the wars we are involved in. Internal conflicts are
happening all around the world and they are causing death and poverty
on a massive scale. In Sudan for instance, 4.9 million people are now
displaced. Poverty fuels conflict. Conflict exacerbates poverty. In
fact, the same researchers that produce the GPI estimate that violence
costs the global economy $10.5 trillion a year. That sure puts our
measly Aid spending (currently somewhere around $119.6
billion
) in perspective huh?

As the famous economist Jeffrey
Sachs
once said, "aid for the poor guarantees security for the
rich". What a no-brainer, right? Instability will grow where poverty
festers. Yet economically rich countries continue, for the most part,
to fail dismally in their commitments to overseas aid and development.

New Zealand's track record is particularly dismal. We committed to a
United Nations target that all developed countries should give 0.7
percent of Gross National Income (GNI) as Official Development
Assistance (ODA) by 2015. The 0.7 percent figure may sound complicated,
but it is actually quite simple. For every $100 earned in the country,
the country gives 70 cents in aid.

Currently however, New Zealand gives only 0.3% of GNI as ODA,
despite repeated campaigning by the NGO sector and NZ public. That puts
us roughly 18th in the OECD, behind big military spenders
like the UK and France, and behind the Aussies whom we love to
criticize for their involvement in Iraq. And since the 0.7 percent that
we promised to give is (obviously) a percentage, not a figure in
absolute terms, the actual amount rises and falls as our GDP rises and
falls. Our commitment to ODA is more of a moral statement than a
financial one, and we can be doing a lot better.

Finally, does the GPI really pick up on what's going on at home here
in New Zealand? We might be the world's safest nation for some, but
not if you're a child or a woman.

Looking at UNICEF
and OECD
reports on Child Poverty in "developed" countries, New Zealand has a
poor record of standards in caring for its children on just about every
index. One in six New Zealand children lives in poverty, meaning they
are more likely to live in poverty than any other group. A third of
children live in overcrowded conditions, and we have the highest rates
of youth suicide in the entire OECD. This is unacceptable in a country
as wealthy as New Zealand.

Violence against women is another issue that continues to persist as
one of the most heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses
in the world. The GPI has been criticized for not including indicators
specifically relating to violence against women and children. If it
did, New Zealand might not enjoy its celebrated status. In one
national survey
, 35 percent of the women interviewed reported being
physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

I'm not trying to be overly critical of New Zealand. We have our
issues, but we have plenty to be proud of as well. We enjoy a heritage of peacemakers and
heroes, like Te Whiti and
Tohu
, Kate
Sheppard
, and Sir
Edmund Hillary
, and strong stands on issues like Apartheid and
Nuclear Power. But that is no license to rest on our laurels. If we are
to be true to our heroes, we must continually strive ever upwards and
onwards. If we are truly to be ranked as peaceful, we should follow in
the philosophy and footsteps of our pioneering peacemakers from Parihaka,
when they reminded us:

"No good thing has ever been wrought by force ...

there is no reason why force should continue to have power over
us."

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