- U.S. sees biggest year-on-year improvement in peacefulness since 2007
- Drop in global peace due to increase in homicides, violent demonstrations, fear of crime
- Intensification of conflicts, growing instability linked to global economic downturn
- Military spending as percent of GDP reaches lowest point in four years
- New Zealand most peaceful for second consecutive year, Iraq ranked last for fourth straight year
WASHINGTON, June 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The world became less peaceful for the second consecutive year, according to the fourth annual Global Peace Index (GPI) published today. As the global economy continues to falter, this year's data shows an intensification of conflicts and growing instability linked to the downturn that began in 2008, with several countries seeing sharp increases in homicides, violent demonstrations and fear of crime.
The increase in violence is depriving the global economy of assets when they are needed most. A 25 percent reduction in global violence would free up $1.8 trillion USD annually - enough to pay off Greece's debt, fund the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and meet the EU's 20-20-20 climate and energy targets.
The only study to quantify global peacefulness, the GPI is produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). This year it has expanded to rank 149 independent states. Composed of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators, it combines internal and external factors ranging from military expenditure to relations with neighboring countries and levels of violent crime.
"The research carried out by the IEP based on 4 years of GPI data provides a quantifiable demonstration that improving peace can transform the global economy and unleash the wealth needed to tackle debt, fund economic expansion and create a more sustainable environment," said Steve Killelea, founder of the GPI.
Top-ranked New Zealand was one of only three countries in the top ten to improve in peacefulness in the 2010 Index. Iceland moved into the #2 spot as the country's economy stabilized after falling to #4 in last year's ranking, the improvement demonstrating the resilience of peaceful nations.
Commenting on the results, Prof. Jeff Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University said: "The GPI continues its pioneering work in drawing the world's attention to the massive resources we are squandering in violence and conflict. The lives and money wasted in wars, incarcerations, weapons systems, weapons trade, and more, could be directed to ending poverty, promoting education, and protecting the environment. The GPI will not only draw attention to these crucial issues, but help us understand them and to invest productively in a more peaceful world."
Despite slipping three ranks compared to last year's results, partially because of new countries added to the GPI, the United States (85) improved its 2010 GPI score, registering its biggest year-on-year improvement since the first Index was released in 2007. The improvement came as a result of a decrease in the number of deaths from external conflict and an increase in political stability.
Western Europe continues to be the most peaceful region, with the majority of the countries ranking in the top 20. All five Scandinavian nations rank in the top ten; however, Denmark dropped five spots to #7 because of decrease in respect for human rights and continuing involvement in Afghanistan.
Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan were the least peaceful countries for the second consecutive year. Syria, Georgia, the Philippines, Russia and Cyprus were this year's biggest fallers.
"How peaceful a country is depends on the internal structures, institutions, and attitudes that sustain and promote peace as well as on external factors," said Clyde McConaghy, board director of the IEP. "This year's top five countries, and more peaceful countries in general, have certain things in common: well functioning governments, stable business environments, respect for human rights, low levels of corruption, high rates of participation in education, and freedom of information."
With data now collected for the last four consecutive years, the Institute for Economics and Peace has also identified for the first time global, regional and national trends in peacefulness since 2007. Key among those was a slight decrease in global peacefulness since 2007, with 62 percent of countries recording decreases in levels of peacefulness over that period of time.
Despite the global slide, the Middle East & North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa have made the most gains since the research began in 2007. Reasons for the improvement vary, but include more political stability and a drop in military expenditure in the Middle East & North Africa and less access to weapons, a decrease in conflicts and better relations with neighboring countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Conversely, South Asia saw the greatest decrease in peacefulness, as a result of increased involvement in conflicts, a rise in deaths from internal conflict and human rights abuses. The main countries experiencing decreases in peacefulness were India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Year-on-year, Latin America had the steepest fall in peacefulness because of more internal violence, homicides and increased levels of perceived criminality.
Three BRIC countries — Russia (143), India (128) and China (80) — saw substantial declines in peacefulness, while Brazil's score remained essentially stable (83) compared to the 2009 Index.
In fact, Russia saw one of the largest drops in peacefulness of any country this year due to its war with Georgia, ongoing acts of terror, and some protests across the country resulting from a deteriorating economic situation. China saw its score deteriorate because of worsening security in parts of the country, notably Xinjiang province, where violent conflict prompted rises in several measures of societal safety.
Georg Kell, Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact said: "This research clearly indicates the strong positive relationship between peace and factors critical to successful business operations, including market size, cost structures and profits. Business leaders would be well advised to take this research into account when creating their strategic and operational plans and making investment decisions".
The GPI was founded by Killelea, an Australian international technology entrepreneur and philanthropist. It forms part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank dedicated to the research and education of the relationship between economics, business and peace. An international panel of experts in the study of peace advises on the identification and weighting of indicators in the GPI, which is compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
For more information, a full list of rankings and to review the IEP's "Peace, Wealth and Human Potential" study, please visit www.visionofhumanity.org
 According to the IEP/Economists for Peace & Security research presented in the GPI2010 Discussion Paper
 Prof. Sachs is also Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia, President and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise Alliance, a non-profit aimed at ending global poverty and is author of hundreds of scholarly articles and many books, including the New York Times bestsellers Common Wealth (Penguin, 2008) and The End of Poverty (Penguin, 2005).
SOURCE Institute for Economics and Peace