The world has gotten a little more peaceful, according to the 13th annual Global Peace Index, a complex study that ranks 163 nations on factors such as homicide and incarceration rates, the presence of small arms, military expenditures, ongoing conflicts, terrorism, the overall economic impact of violence and even climate change.
“The average level of global peacefulness improved for the first time in five years,” the index said, noting that Iceland is the most peaceful nation, a spot it has held for 11 years.
New Zealand is in second place, followed by Portugal, Austria, Denmark, Canada, Singapore, Slovenia, Japan and the Czech Republic, to round out the top 10.
The U.S. is ranked 128th on the peace list, down four places from last year. Among Western allies, Australia is 13th, Germany 22nd, Britain 45th and France 60th. In Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were rated 114, 113 and 123, respectively.
At the other end of the spectrum, Afghanistan ranks as the world’s least peaceful nation — with Syria as runner-up, followed by South Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Russia.
The report was compiled by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent, nonprofit think tank.
“Our most striking finding is that in the problem spots of the world, there are a number of places where the situation is improving and getting better,” Steve Killelea, the index’s founder and executive chairman, said in an interview.
“If we don’t start any new wars, we are probably going to see global peace improve in 2019,” Mr. Killelea said, noting that these improvements “leave some level of optimism.”
The research also calculates the annual “economic impact of violence” — how much it costs on a global scale to deal with conflict, war and other factors. The report says that figure is now $14.1 trillion, and moving in the right direction.
“The global economic impact of violence improved for the first time since 2012, decreasing by 3.3% or $475 billion from 2017 to 2018,” the research said.
But the 103-page report also found that the world remains “considerably less peaceful now than a decade ago,” and that both positive and negative trends are at work. The research found that 86 of the nations were improving on their peaceful characteristics, while 76 faced deteriorating situations. The study also measured an emotional dynamic.
“Perceptions of peacefulness have increased in some areas but decreased in others,” the report said. “More people across the world now feel that they have more freedom in life, are more satisfied with life, and are treated with more respect than in 2008. Many more people also feel that their countries are better places to live for ethnic and religious minorities. However, daily feelings of sadness, worry, and stress have also increased over the same time period.”
Of nine global regions, Europe emerged as the most peaceful, followed by North America and the Asia-Pacific region. The Middle East and Africa rated as the two least peaceful regions.
And there is a growing trouble spot much closer to home for Americans.
“Central America and the Caribbean had the largest deterioration, especially in safety and security due to widespread crime and political instability,” the research said.
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