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Iceland tops the charts for most peaceful country in the world

media Iceland emerged as the place for peace in the Institute for Economics & Peace's annual Global Peace Index. Pixabay

For the eighth year running Iceland tops the Global Peace Index as the world’s most peaceful country in a ranking of 163 nations while Afghanistan moves into last place just after Syria.

This year’s report includes a new ranking: the positive peace index, a systematic approach to helping countries achieve a more lasting peace.

For 13 years, the Australia-based Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) has released its coveted Global Peace Index. The report ranks countries through its measures of quantifying peace based on its relationships to business, culture, economy and political situation.

And in this year's report, released on Wednesday, there’s a nugget of good news: a slight improvement in peace across the globe.

“We have this year an improvement, a very tiny one, only 0.09 percent on the world average,” notes Serge Stroobants from the Brussels office of the Institute and director of operations for Europe and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

But it’s the first increase since 2014.

The report itself aims to give countries a better sense of self-awareness and ultimately develop ways of improving their policies. This year’s survey includes a new element called the ‘positive peace index’ that will help countries develop such policy through a systematic approach to peace, says Stroobants.

Positive peace

The IEP defines negative peace as the “absence of violence or fear of violence”. This definition is broken down into three areas:

  • ongoing conflict
  • societal safety
  • security and militarisation

But positive peace is different. It is the “complementary aspect of peacefulness that captures the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies” as defined in the report.

“For many years, we have been thinking about a concept that would allow countries to invest in specific pillars that would allow them to create peace; to maintain and sustain and eventually then to get the economic rewards or benefits of a peaceful situation,” explains Stroobants.

This concept is thus ‘positive peace’, and it is organised around eight different pillars that offer a “systemic approach to peace”, meaning there should be some impact on all eight pillars simultaneously to have a “transformational effect of positive peace”. These pillars are:

  1. Well-functioning government
  2. Sound business environment
  3. Acceptance of the rights of others
  4. Good relations with neighbours
  5. Free flow of information
  6. High levels of human capital
  7. Low levels of corruption
  8. Equitable distribution of resources

Sweden is the perfect example of a country that has a high positive peace, with countries like Afghanistan and Syria faring worst on both the Global Peace Index and the Positive Peace Index.  "They do not really have the capacity to start investing in the eight different pillars,” says Stroobants.

MENA vs Europe

While Europe scored high as a region itself, France as a country fell by two points coming in this year at 60 out of 163.

“They [the French] had a modest improvement in safety and security, but that was outweighed by the deterioration and militarisation and on-going conflict,” explains the IEP researcher.

But given that the European region fared as one of the best, its direct neighbour, the MENA fared the worst in terms of being the least peaceful, but with a caveat.

There was an actual improvement with successes in Syria and Iraq more investment in “political stability through the region, especially in Northern Africa,” says Stroobants.

So while MENA is far from perfect, there has been an improvement since last year.

But the IEP director notes that if the MENA region was taken out of the Global Peace Index, “the world would have become more peaceful in the past 10 years”. Knowing this kind of information means more emphasis should be put on identifying these zones that are in conflict today or “would be in conflict tomorrow or have the potential to be in conflict tomorrow”.

Prevention is always better than stopping an actual crisis.

Climate change = peace

While the African continent fared better than in usual years, one element that came out was the connection between climate change and conflict zones.

Specifically Sub-Saharan Africa “is one of those regions that is really at risk to this connection” stresses Stroobants. This connection between climate and access to resources that is directly linked to climate and the levels of peacefulness and increasing levels of volatility.

Such environmental impacts as flooding, deforestation and drought have already been the case earlier this year in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

China vs US

One notable change is North America that displayed the second region with the “largest decrease in the global peace index”. And this all related to the United States.

Most of the indicators that have the largest impact in this year’s decrease relate to “safety and security in society” when looking at homicide rates, the number of violent crimes and the high level of incarcerations, explains Stroobants.

Added to this is the area of political instability that is linked to a “perception of trust among American leadership” both in the US and worldwide.

“People do not really perceive the United States as a major leader anymore or having potential to lead the free world”. In fact, that role has now been taken by China.

While that may sound surprising to some, Stroobants stresses that if one “concentrates on the western vision of leadership” then, of course, one questions why China has taken that role.

But this index is a global perception of leadership, so a larger part of the population that is non-western recognises China as the potential leader.

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