Is peace going out of style?

The world has become less peaceful for the ninth time in the last 12 years, according to the latest Global Peace Index report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, which ranks 163 countries on their state of peace across three domains: the level of societal safety and security; the extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict; and the degree of militarization.

The average level of country peacefulness deteriorated by 0.34% over the past year, with peace deteriorating in 80 countries, although peace improved in 81 countries, the report says.

Europe remains the world’s most peaceful region, despite recording a very slight deterioration in peacefulness since last year. South America had the biggest fall in peacefulness, with deteriorations across all three domains.

The U.S. Ranks in the Bottom 42

The United States ranks No. 121, worse than many of its neighbors — Canada is No. 6, Haiti is No. 111, and El Salvador, Guatamala and Honduras also rank higher, at 113, 115, and 119 respectively.

Just 14 countries in the world are in what the index rates a “very high” state of peace, 46 are in a “high” state of peace, 63 in a “medium” state of peace (this is where the U.S. ranks near the bottom, with only three countries, Burkina Faso, South Africa and the Republic of the Congo below it in the medium category.) These are followed by the countries in a “low” state (including Mexico, Israel and Iran) and “very low” state of peace (including Venezuela, Turkey, Russia, and North Korea.)

Military expenditure is one of the big reasons the U.S. falls where it does. In this category, the U.S. ranked in the bottom five: 160/163. Both weapons exports and weapons imports per capita increased, and the U.S. is now the fourth largest weapons exporter on a per capita basis, behind only France, Russia, and Israel.

Despite improvements, the Middle East and North Africa remain the world’s least peaceful region. The least peaceful countries in the world are Afghanistan (No. 163) Syria (162) and Iraq (161).

What Is Peace?

Peace isn’t cut-and-dried. It’s not just the absence of war, violence or fear of violence—this is what the Institute for Economics and Peace calls “negative peace.” Positive peace sets the bar a little higher, referring to the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. These include:

  • a well-functioning government,
  • a sound business environment,
  • equitable distribution of resources,
  • free flow of information,
  • good relations with neighbors,
  • low levels of corruption,
  • high levels of human capital, and
  • acceptance of the rights of others.

Many of these pillars of positive peace are under threat by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In general, lack of peace carries steep economic costs, the report says. The direct and indirect costs of violence include military expenditure, the cost of crime to business, judicial system expenditures, domestic violence, household out-of-pocket spending on safety and security and spillover effects from conflict and violence.

The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2019 amounted to $14.5 trillion in constant purchasing power parity terms, the report says. This is equivalent to 10.6% of the global GDP, or $1,909 per person. 

From the Global Peace Index 2020, these are the 30 most peaceful countries in the world: