Jun 6, 2018,11:38am
I write about business and politics in the Middle East and beyond
The world is less peaceful today than at any time in the past decade, according to research from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) issued today.
Over the past year the situation in 71 countries has improved, but it has deteriorated in 92 others, according to the latest edition of the IEP’s annual Global Peace Index. The biggest contributors to that trend include the escalation in cross-border conflicts and civil wars, a rise in political repression and many countries’ reduced commitments to UN peacekeeping efforts.
Both Europe and North America have got worse over the past year, according to the report, which compiles and analyses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators to build its index, with the factors ranging from wars to incarceration levels, military spending, corruption, political repression and the state of relations with neighbouring countries.
A member of the National Liberation Army carries his machine gun in a camp on the banks of the San… [+] Juan River, Choco department, Colombia, on November 19, 2017. (Photo: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the National Liberation Army carries his machine gun in a camp on the banks of the San… [+]
This means the report is not simply a snapshot of which countries are the most war-ravaged; instead it provides a wider definition of political stability, including domestic political tensions. That helps to explain the continued poor position of the US (ranked 121 out of 163 countries), with its increasingly partisan political environment, involvement in multiple conflicts around the world and large prison population.
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The US is ranked among the 50 least peaceful countries in the world, a distinction it shares with the likes of Mexico, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, Turkey and Russia.
In the Asia-Pacific region, 11 of the 19 countries saw their peacefulness decline over the past year, with Myanmar the worst affected. The majority of countries in the Russia and Eurasia region also suffered a decline in scores, led by Armenia and Russia. In Latin America, the biggest challenges to peace are often crime, corruption and lawlessness ; for the past eight years, Central America and the Caribbean has fared worse than anywhere else in terms of homicides and other violent crime as well as perceptions of criminality.
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The disparity between peaceful and violent countries is wider in South Asia than anywhere else, with Afghanistan and Pakistan continuing to decline even as the likes of Bhutan and Sri Lanka improve. It is a similar story in sub-Saharan Africa, where the situation in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan is deteriorating, while countries such as Mauritania and Botswana rank towards the top of the index.
But the situation is worst of all in the Middle East and North Africa, which retains its position as the least peaceful region of the world. Countries in the region fill out four of the bottom seven places in the index, with Syria the worst, followed by Iraq (160), Yemen (158) and Libya (157).
That list of benighted countries points to one of the key reasons for the worsening global picture. According to the latest edition of the IEP, many of the conflicts and crises that have emerged over the past ten years remain unresolved today even as new ones crop up – meaning the overall level of violence has been rising.
“It is much harder to build peace than it is to destroy it,” says Steve Killelea , chairman and founder of the IEP. “This partly explains why countries at the bottom of the index remain trapped in prolonged conflict. Ongoing conflicts such as those in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan have, in the past decade, contributed towards a significant rise in battlefield deaths, a surging refugee population and an increase in terrorism.”
The economic impact of all this violence reached $14.8 trillion in 2017 according to the IEP report, equivalent to 12.4% of global GDP, or nearly $2,000 per person.
It can be hard to separate correlation from causation when it comes to economic performance and political instability. However, the IEP points out that peaceful countries tend to have considerable economic advantages over the least peaceful ones, with lower inflation, lower interest rates and higher investment levels in more politically stable countries.
“Countries with the highest levels of peace averaged an additional two percentage points on their GDP growth rates over the last 60 years compared to the least peaceful countries,” said Killelea, “Over the past decade, countries that improved in peace had GDP growth rates almost seven times higher than countries that decreased in peace. These are truly remarkable figures and underscore the economic benefits of peace.”
The Middle East provides plenty of evidence of the pernicious economic effects of violence, where the economies of Yemen and Syria are on their knees, although somehow still functioning. However, some of the more peaceful corners of the region also appear to be getting worse.
Qatar experienced the largest drop of any country in the index over the past year, due to the political and economic boycott placed on it by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
An increase in political repression has also contributed to lower scores in many countries of the region, including Oman. Overall, nine of the 20 countries in the region saw their score worsen over the past year, while eight fell one or more places in the index.
The best ranked countries from the region include sleepy Kuwait at 42 in the index, followed by the UAE at 45 and – despite its large fall – Qatar at 56. There are some other glimmers of light in the region, though. Although the Middle East and North Africa may still be the world’s least peaceful region, there was a slight improvement in its overall score over the past year, due to the ongoing success in tackling Islamic State miltiants in Iraq and Syria.
At the other end of the scale, Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal and Denmark are the most peaceful countries and Europe remains the most peaceful region, despite the fall in its score over the past year.