By Damon Riley
This is the lowest the U.S. has ranked since the inception of the Global Peace Index in 2008.
The United States might seem like it would have more in common with Canada than with South Africa or Azerbaijan.
However, according to the Global Peace Index, these three countries share one commonality that Canada doesn’t: low levels of peace.
Produced by the Australian-based think tank, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the yearly report on global trends in peace ranks the U.S. close to the bottom of its index of 163 countries.
“It dropped two places to 122,” said founder and executive chairman of IEP, Steve Killelea during a live conference. “And that was on the back of: increased violent demonstrations, of increased political instability — which relates back to the last election and the issues with the handover of power to the new administration, — occupation of the Capitol Hill, demonstrations around Black Lives Matter and others.”
This is the lowest that the U.S. has ranked since the inception of the peace index in 2008. America’s position rests above South Africa in peacefulness and below Azerbaijan.
Canada stands as the 10th most peaceful country in the world. This position is beaten only by eight European countries, as well as New Zealand. This is because Europe is the most peaceful region globally, with many of its northern Nordic countries situated at the top.
Above New Zealand and Denmark is the most peaceful country, Iceland, which has held this position since the start of the index. The North American region succumbed to the largest peace decline out of all nine regions considered. Despite this, North America remains the second most peaceful geographic region on the index.
It’s worth noting that the report only considers the U.S. and Canada in its definition of North America. The remaining countries on the continent are categorized under: Central America and the Caribbean. This region is identified as the fourth most peaceful, just under Pacific Asia and above South America.
The Middle East and North African countries measure as the least peaceful region. Though it is one of the only three regions to have seen an annual increase in peace indicators, it still remains as a primary driver to peace deterioration globally. Afghanistan takes the position as least peaceful followed by Yemen and Syria.
Peace is vague and will always require an element of subjectivity to define and quantify. An international board of experts has agreed to 23 indicators of peace performance. The indicators are further grouped into three categories: ongoing conflict, militarization, and safety and security.
The analysis draws upon many data sources, but the most notable is the Gallup World Poll, an international organization that claims to represent 99% of the world’s adult population.
The numbers show that average peacefulness has declined .07% since last year and 2% since the start of the peace index.
The gap separating the most and least peaceful countries also continues to grow as the 25 least peaceful countries dropped by 12.1% and 25 most peaceful countries increased by 4.3%.
Many factors led to this deterioration of peacefulness. Forcibly displaced people have doubled to 84 million since 2007. Additionally, terrorism has increased throughout the decade, but deaths from terrorism have declined globally.
Since 2011, demonstrations, general strikes and riots have risen 244% and COVID-19 has aggravated further conflict with nearly 5,000 pandemic-related acts of violence recorded in 2020.
Despite this, people remain optimistic with 75% of the world’s population saying that the world is safer today than five years ago.
There are more benefits to peace than ethical ones. Peace is correlated with: income growth, better environmental outcomes, higher levels of well-being, better development outcomes and stronger resilience.
The economy is also affected by peace indicators and IEP highlights this with an entirely separate Index on the topic.
The global economic cost of conflict is $14.96 trillion, which is 11.6% of the world’s GDP or $1,942 lost per person.
A .2% increase on the impact of violence has cost the world $32 billion. Suicide has an especially high economic impact at $683.9 billion lost, representing 4.6% of the global cost of violence. This is more than the cost of all armed conflict, which decreased by 7.6%, saving $4.5 billion.
The North American region has the highest economic cost of violence at more than $3 trillion, which costs $8,000 per citizen.
Militarization is cited as the leading cause of worldwide economic loss followed by internal security, domestic crime and armed conflict.
The U.S. is the third least peaceful country in terms of militarization, beaten only by Russia and Israel. Israel ranks at 143 in peacefulness while Russia is distinguished as the tenth least peaceful country in the world.
With U.S. military spending exceeding more than half of a trillion dollars, it is no wonder why the U.S. also consumes 38% of global military expenditure. For perspective, that is more than the next 10 countries combined.
China, which ranks as the 100th most peaceful, has the next highest budget of about $250 billion. This is followed by India, who ranks at $135 billion, and Russia, whose military budgets have trouble competing with $100 billion each.
U.S. military spending is infamous for consuming as much as half of its discretionary spending. This is the spending that is subject to change annually, unlike mandatory spending, which is obligated to provide many years worth of funds to certain social programs.
To provide a sense of scale, the military budget also compares to:
Nearly 30 NASA budgets,
Nearly 60 budgets of Small Business Administration,
Three Department of Agricultures,
More than six Department of Transportations,
Three Department of Educations,
More than 14 Department of Justices,
More than six Department of Labors,
More than 14 Department of Energys,
and about two and a half budgets for the Department of Veteran Affairs, which is separate from military expenditure.
Large weapons exports pull the U.S. down further. In 2020, the U.S sold nearly $175 billion worth of weapons with a fourth of weapons funneling to foreign militaries. Alone, the U.S accounts for 30% of global weapons exports. This total comes close to the combined efforts of the next biggest arms dealers: Russia, Germany, France and China, which combine to form 45% of all weapons exports. Ironically, this feature comes back to assist the U.S. with its positive ranking for weapon imports.
The U.S. also takes heat for its ownership of nearly 4,000 active nuclear weapons, costing Americans $80 billion annually. Russia is the only country to surpass the U.S. in nuclear arms. Together, both countries own 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal. Comparatively, the next seven countries: China, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea, all combine to total just over thousand nuclear arms.
Finally, while the U.S. scores positively for having low rates of armed service personnel, its participation in foreign conflicts scores the U.S. lower on the index than it would otherwise.
In 2010, the Institute for Economics and Peace also produced another peace index which ranks each U.S. state individually. Many northern states ranked high in peacefulness, with Maine taking the top spot. Countries like New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, California and Michigan are categorized similarly around 30. Pennsylvania stands at 24, while Louisiana is marked as least peaceful.
While the peace index reflects critically on the U.S., it also reports where the U.S. succeeds as well as how it can be improved. For instance, the U.S. contributes the most funding towards the United Nations’ peacekeeping budget, contributing nearly 28% of its funds. This is about double the contributions provided by the next top donor: China.
A unique consideration for determining peace is citizen perception. Crime and violence are cited as being the second greatest risk to daily life, besides car accidents, by one in seven people.
The U.S., however, is applauded for having low perceptions of criminality compared to other countries, which reflects accurately on the true crime rate. Levels of deaths from and intensity of organized internal conflict are ranked low as well.
Additionally, the U.S. ranks well in relationships with neighboring countries and in political terror. Despite the U.S. experiencing an increase in political instability, it is still ranked high in this category compared to other countries. These factors are considered relevant among the eight commonalities that are held among peaceful countries.
Coined as the “eight pillars of peace,” these aspects include: a well-functioning government, equitable distributions of resources, sound business environment, acceptance of others, rights, good relations with neighbor countries, high levels of human capital, low levels of corruption and free flow of information.
Free flow of information is one aspect held with much American pride. This right, provided by the First Amendment, has been instrumental in fostering a trend of peace-journalists whose methods seek to disarm the violence that is otherwise promoted through conventional journalism.
“It’s not about whether you call yourself a peace journalist,” said director for the Center for Global Peace Journalism, Steven Youngblood, who has taught peace journalism in 27 countries. “It’s about how you frame each side and ask which voices are not being represented.”
Uplifting the voices of those who have little power is reported as instrumental to promoting peace in its many kinds. The peace index sticks with the convention of peace researchers with two kinds of peace that exist: positive and negative.
Negative peace is peace sustained through the fear of violence, while positive peace is when attitudes and behaviors are actively invested in peace-building.
The next edition of the peace index comes out this June. Keeping tabs on it can reveal macroscopic trends in how the many forms of peace and conflict affect the world. However, it is also important not to get caught up in the abstractions of large numbers and remember that the values of peace start with the individual.
“Peace is not found in a piece of paper,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in a hearing last October to promote peace. “It is found in people.”
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