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The 2021 Global Peace Index has just been published. Here are the countries that have shown the greatest improvements in peacefulness.

Ukraine

Ukraine recorded the largest improvement in peacefulness on the 2021 GPI with its score improving by 7.6 per cent, leading to a rise of five places in the rankings to 142nd. Ukraine has recorded consistent increases in peacefulness since the outbreak of conflict in 2014, with its score improving for four out of the past five years. However, Ukraine still faces many challenges to peace, particularly in the Safety and Security domain.

The biggest improvement occurred in the Ongoing Conflict domain, which improved by just over ten per cent. This improvement was primarily driven by improvements on the internal conflicts fought and intensity of internal conflict indicators. However, relations with neighbouring countries remain strained due to ongoing conflict with Russia in the Donbas region. Russian troops performed drills near the Ukrainian border in early 2021, leading to a spike in tension in the region, before withdrawing in late April.

The largest improvements in peacefulness occurred on the political terror and violent crime indicators. Theft, robbery, vandalism and arson now pose only a moderate risk to businesses and the government. Ukraine also saw a major improvement in political instability. The presidential and parliamentary elections held in April and July 2019 respectively were judged free and fair. Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) judged that the elections had been “competitive and held with respect for fundamental freedoms”.

Iraq

Iraq recorded the second largest increase in peacefulness in the 2021 GPI, with its score improving by 4.3 per cent. The country is now ranked 159th overall, with improvements across all three GPI domains. The improvement in peacefulness is a continuation of the recent trend in the country, with Iraq recording improvements in three of the past four years.

The largest changes occurred on the Militarisation domain, with improvements in military expenditure, UN Peacekeeping funding and weapons imports. The level of Militarisation has fallen steadily in Iraq over the past five years, and is now at its lowest level since the inception of the index.

On the Ongoing Conflict domain, there was a significant improvement in the internal conflicts fought indicator, and a large fall in the number of deaths from internal conflict. The number of conflict-related deaths in Iraq has fallen from a peak of over 15,000 in 2014 to less than a thousand in 2019, with deaths from terrorism following a similar trajectory.

However, despite being one of the largest improvers in peacefulness, Iraq is still ranked among the four least peaceful countries in the world. It also recorded a deterioration in political instability and a fall in relations with neighbouring countries over the past year. Tensions with Turkey have increased after Turkey launched Operations Claw-Eagle and Claw-Tiger, a joint air and ground cross-border assault into the Independent Kurdistan Region (IKR), in northern Iraq. The campaign set out to target military positions associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish political movement that Turkey classifies as a terrorist organisation. 

Poland

Poland has the third largest increase in peacefulness on the 2021 GPI, with an 8.5 per cent improvement in its score. The country rose nine places in the GPI rankings and is now ranked 17th in Europe and 24th overall. Poland had the largest increase in peacefulness amongst the 25 most peaceful countries. This increase in peacefulness was driven by improvements on the Safety and Security domain.

The majority of indicators in the Safety and Security domain improved, with the largest improvement occurring on the violent crime indicator. Poland has one of the lowest violent crime rates in Europe, with particularly low levels of vandalism and arson. Its homicide rate is one of the lowest in the world as well.

The level of violent demonstrations in Poland also fell, with violent civil unrest remaining rare in the post-communist era. While the total number of demonstrations has increased since 2015, these demonstrations have remained non-violent. Large demonstrations occurred regarding legislation criminalising the abortion of foetuses with congenital deficits.

The Militarisation domain improved slightly, owing to a large improvement in Poland’s commitment to UN Peacekeeping Funding. However, despite these improvements, Poland recorded deteriorations on military expenditure and weapons imports. Of the 35 countries in the European region, Poland has the fifth highest military expenditure as a percentage of GDP.

Vietnam

Vietnam recorded the fourth largest improvement in peacefulness on the 2021 GPI, improving by 5.3 per cent. This improvement meant that Vietnam jumped 19 places in the overall rankings, and is now ranked 50th overall. It is the tenth most peaceful country in the Asia-Pacific region. The improvement in peacefulness was driven by changes on the Militarisation and Safety and Security domains.

Vietnam’s improvement on the Militarisation domain resulted from an increased commitment to UN Peacekeeping funding while Military Expenditure as a percentage of GDP also decreased, falling from an estimated two per cent of GDP in 2019, to 1.67 per cent in 2020. Unlike most countries that experienced a relative fall in military expenditure, this was not the result of a fall in economic activity stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, with Vietnam’s economy projected to have grown by almost three per cent in 2020.

Vietnam also registered significant improvements on the Safety and Security domain, with falls in both political terror and terrorism impact. Feelings of safety within Vietnam have also been improving, with the percentage of people reporting that they don’t feel safe walking home alone at night falling from just over 36 per cent in 2018, to less than 31 per cent in 2021.

Although the level of ongoing conflict remained unchanged, Vietnam has somewhat strained relations with neighbouring countries. Additionally, it also has moderate levels of political terror. The government has prosecuted individuals who made online posts criticising the government and pressured social media companies to censor politically sensitive information.

North Macedonia

North Macedonia had the fifth largest increase in peacefulness on the 2021 GPI, with a 5.2 per cent improvement in its score. The country rose 11 places in the GPI rankings and is now ranked 40th overall. The increase in peacefulness was largely driven by improvements in the Ongoing Conflict domain.

The intensity of internal conflict indicator had the largest improvement, and is now at its lowest level since 2016. Conflict with Greece has receded since the signing of the Prespa Agreement, though Bulgaria continues to block North Macedonia’s EU membership negotiations. Despite some divisions in the country over the Prespa Agreement, the issue is not as polarising as it was a year ago.

On the Safety and Security domain, there were improvements in political terror, the homicide rate, incarceration rate and terrorism impact. Despite these improvements, North Macedonia recorded a deterioration in perceptions of criminality. This is the fourth consecutive year that North Macedonia has recorded improvements on the Safety and Security domain.

The Militarisation domain improved slightly owing to an improvement in Macedonia’s commitment to UN Peacekeeping Funding. However, North Macedonia recorded a deterioration in military expenditure.