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World Becoming Less Peaceful, Global Measure Finds

The Geography of Peace The world has become slightly less peaceful in the past year–a consequence perhaps of intensified violent conflict in some countries, the effects of rapidly rising food and fuel prices in 2008, and the global economic meltdown. “Rapidly rising unemployment, pay freezes and falls in the value of house prices, savings and...

The Geography of Peace


The world has become slightly less peaceful in the past year–a consequence perhaps of intensified violent conflict in some countries, the effects of rapidly rising food and fuel prices in 2008, and the global economic meltdown.

“Rapidly rising unemployment, pay freezes and falls in the value of house prices, savings and pensions is causing popular resentment in many countries, with political repercussions that have been registered by the Global Peace Index (GPI) through various indicators measuring safety and security in society,” says the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank dedicated to the research and education of the relationship between economic development, business and peace.


The results of the Institute’s Global Peace Index for 2009–the third annual measure which combines a number of indicators selected by academics and leaders of peace institutions–ranked 144 countries from most peaceful to least peaceful.

The 144 countries encompass almost 99 percent of the world’s population and over 87 percent of the planet’s land mass.

Indicators combined internal and external factors ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighboring countries and the level of respect for human rights. Indicators include how easy it is to obtain guns, levels of organized crime, proportion of people in prison, the likelihood of violent protests and how stable government institutions are.

The GPI was founded by Steve Killelea, an Australian international technology entrepreneur and philanthropist. Endorsed by a number of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, the GPI creates a snapshot of relative peacefulness among nations while continuing to contribute to an understanding of what factors help create or sustain more peaceful societies.

New Zealand Is the Most at Peace


New Zealand is ranked as the country most at peace, followed by Denmark and Norway.

Small, stable and democratic countries are consistently ranked highest; 14 of the top 20 countries are Western or Central European countries, according to the GPI 2009 executive summary.

“This is, however, a reduction from 16 last year, with Hungary and Slovakia both slipping out of the top 20, while Qatar and Australia moved up to 16th and 19th place respectively,” the GPI summary says.

All five Scandinavian countries are in the top ten of the GPI. Island nations generally fare well, although Madagascar fell by 30 places amid mounting political instability and violent demonstrations.

Iraq Is the Least at Peace


“For the third year running, the country ranked least at peace is Iraq. Afghanistan and Somalia follow–countries that are in a state of ongoing conflict and upheaval.”

The average score for the nations surveyed in the 2009 GPI is 1.964 (based on a 1-5 scale). There is little variance between the overall scores of the top 20 countries (1.202 for New Zealand and 1.481 for Chile), although the 20 lowest ranked countries exhibit a far greater spread, varying between 2.485 (Sri Lanka) and 3.341 (Iraq).

Working with the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Institute for Economics and Peace, the think tank that houses the GPI, looked at 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators that affect a country’s GPI ranking.

U.S. Is Not Changed Much


The U.S. score though did not change much despite the economic crisis, indicating that the U.S. is able to weather major crises without suffering from serious political instability or increased violence.

The U.S. ranking did change, however, with the country jumping six spots higher from 89 last year to 83 in 2009. The jump was partially due to a drop in the GPI indicator measuring the likelihood for terrorist attacks. It was also the result of other countries seeing a decrease in their GPI ranking.

GPI indicators that prevented the U.S. from being ranked higher were:

  • High number of jailed population per 100,000 people.
  • Ease of access to firearms.
  • Number of deaths from organized external conflicts


Top Ten Countries

(Most Peaceful)

1 New Zealand

2 Denmark

2 Norway

4 Iceland

5 Austria

6 Sweden

7 Japan

8 Canada

9 Finland

9 Slovenia

Bottom Five Countries

(Least Peaceful)

140 Sudan

141 Israel

142 Somalia

143 Afghanistan

144 Iraq

Countries With Biggest Index Changes

(Change in rank, 2008-2009)

Top Five Risers

 50 Bosnia and Herzegovina +23

100 Angola +16

106 Congo, Republic of the +15

 54 Egypt +13

 87 Trinidad and Tobago +11

Top Five Fallers

 72 Madagascar -30

108 Mexico -16

 54 Latvia -16

123 South Africa -15

119 Yemen -13

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Meet the Author

Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn