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Peace May Be More Elusive but Not Impossible


As you may have suspected, the world is becoming less peaceful. This marks the third year in a row that rising social and political turmoil has pushed indicators higher in assessing the lack of safety worldwide. New hot spots, as in the Middle East and North Africa, joined the list of old hot spots that barely simmered down, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. These increases in violence reflect the character of conflicts, which are more likely to occur between citizens and their own governments rather than between governments, as in the cold war. This is particularly so this year in many Arab countries, where people in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have fought for democratic freedoms and against repressive regimes. In Syria, the bloodbath is intensifying.

What is peace? For the sake of simplicity, it is the absence of violence, says the 2011 Global Peace Index, which is produced by the Australian-based Institute for Economics and Peace, founded by Steve Killelea, a telecommunications entrepreneur. The institute’s “panel of experts” is made up of academics and policy people from Western-oriented countries: Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and Spain.

The index uses primarily Western sources as well to calculate peace in 153 countries, or about 99 percent of the world’s population. Some of the main sources, measuring numbers from March 15, 2010 to March 15, 2011, are the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the Economist Intelligence Unit (which also co-wrote the report). The index also relies on data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

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Filipinos in Manila protesting government policies this summer. The Global Peace Index, which ranks countries on their peacefulness, rated the Philippines toward the bottom: 136 out of 153 countries. PHOTO BY JOE PENNEY

The 23 qualitative and quantitative indices include levels of militarization, domestic and international conflicts, safety and security in society and potential for terrorist acts. Other findings also suggest that the likelihood of violent demonstrations, terrorism and perceptions of criminality in society are increasing.

Yet peace prevails, most notably in Western Europe. Iceland is the safest country, the index calculated, replacing New Zealand, which held the No. 1 spot in the last two years. Libya fell the most in rankings in the index’s five-year history, to 143 from 83, while Malaysia became the first Southeast Asian nation to enter the Top 20 as No. 19. Other positive swings include cuts in military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, a result of the effects of the global financial crisis.

Strife-torn Somalia is considered the least peaceful nation anywhere, replacing Iraq, which had been lingering at the bottom since 2007.

Some criticism of the rankings, from its beginnings, has noted the lack of scoring in violence against women and children. And it is difficult to understand the current ranking of Afghanistan as most peaceful in the category of “imports of major conventional weapons per 100,000 people.”

How does the United States, ranked 82 in the overall peace roster, sandwiched between Gabon and Bangladesh, look? The US is a heavily weaponized country, the index says; it is involved in two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan); it has lost thousands of lives from those conflicts; its potential for terrorists attacks and “lack of disrespect” for human rights indications are high (worse off than Cuba, Libya, Guatemala and Kyrgyzstan); and its military sophistication rivals that of Israel, putting both countries at the top in that regard.

If the US moderately reduced its levels of violence to that of Canada (eighth most peaceful in the world), its economy would reap savings and additional financial activity of about $360 billion, the report suggests.

10 Most Peaceful Nations:
New Zealand
Czech Republic

10 Least Peaceful:
North Korea
The Democratic Republic of Congo
Central African Republic

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Dulcie Leimbach

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland, The Hague and Cyprus). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Peace May Be More Elusive but Not Impossible
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