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Executive Summary

Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the GPI is the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness. This report presents the most comprehensive data- driven analysis to-date on trends in peace, its economic value, and how to develop peaceful societies. The GPI covers 99.7 per cent of the world’s population, using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, and measures the 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 Militarisation.

This year’s results show that the average level of global peacefulness deteriorated by 0.07 per cent. This is the ninth deterioration in peacefulness in the last thirteen years, with 87 countries improving, and 73 recording deteriorations; however, the change in score is the second smallest in the history of the index. The 2021 GPI reveals a world in which the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, only to be replaced with a new wave of tension and uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising tensions between many of the major powers.

The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on peacefulness is still unfolding. While some forms of violence declined in the short term, growing unease with lockdowns and rising economic uncertainty resulted in civil unrest increasing in 2020. Over 5,000 pandemic-related violent events were recorded between January 2020 and April 2021. It is still too early to fully gauge the long-term effects of the pandemic on peace. However, the changing economic conditions in many nations increases the likelihood of political instability and violent demonstrations.

Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Denmark, Portugal, and Slovenia. Afghanistan is the least peaceful country in the world for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and Iraq. All, except Yemen, have been ranked amongst the five least peaceful nations since at least 2015, with Afghanistan having been ranked amongst the three least peaceful nations since 2010.

Eight of the ten countries at the top of the GPI are located in Europe. This is the most European countries to be ranked in the top ten in the history of the index. Singapore fell out of the top ten, replaced by Ireland which improved by three places.

Only three of the nine regions in the world became more peaceful over the past year. The largest improvement occurred in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), followed by Europe and South Asia. However, MENA still remains the least peaceful region in the world. An improvement in the level of Ongoing Conflict in MENA was the biggest driver of increased peacefulness, with every indicator on the domain, recording an improvement. In Europe the improvement in peacefulness was driven by improvements in internal safety and security, including improvements in terrorism impact, violent demonstrations and violent crime. However, political instability and military expenditure deteriorated.

The largest regional deterioration occurred in North America, which deteriorated across all three GPI domains. The primary driver of this fall in peacefulness was a deterioration on the Safety and Security domain, especially in the United States, where growing civil unrest led to increasing perceptions of criminality and political instability, and more violent demonstrations.

In the past fifteen years peacefulness has fallen, with the average country score deteriorating by just under two per cent. Of the 163 countries in the GPI, 86 recorded improvements, while 75 recorded deteriorations and two recorded no change in score. Year on year deteriorations in peacefulness have been much more common, with peacefulness only improving four times since the beginning of the index. Fifteen of the 23 GPI indicators deteriorated between 2008 and 2021.

Two of the three GPI domains deteriorated over the past decade, with Ongoing Conflict deteriorating by 6.2 per cent and Safety and Security deteriorating by 2.5 per cent. Militarisation was the only domain to improve. Terrorism and civil unrest have been the biggest contributors to the global deterioration in peacefulness. Ninety countries recorded increased terrorist activity, while only 50 had lower levels of terrorism. However, after peaking in 2014, during the height of the Syrian civil war, total deaths from terrorism have fallen every year for the last six years, with the largest falls occurring in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria.

Although the impact of terrorism and conflict have fallen over the past six years, the level of civil and political unrest has risen. The number of violent demonstrations rose in 61 countries since 2008, and fell

in just 27 countries. There was a 244 per cent increase globally in riots, general strikes, and anti-government demonstrations between 2011 and 2019. There is currently no sign that this trend is abating.

In 2021 the Ongoing Conflict domain improved for the first time since 2015, with falls in the total number of conflicts fought, and a decrease in the overall intensity of internal conflict. Twenty-one countries improved on internal conflicts fought, while only one deteriorated. However, although the total number of conflict-related deaths has been falling for the past six years, the total number of conflicts and deaths is still much higher than a decade ago. Since 2010, the number of conflicts globally has increased by 88 per cent.

The Militarisation domain has improved by 4.2 per cent since 2008, the only GPI domain to record an improvement in the last 15 years. The armed service rate has fallen in 111 countries, and military expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell in 87. However, there are signs that the trend of falling militarisation is slowing and even reversing in some countries. Both the armed services rate and military expenditure have deteriorated since 2016. The increase in militarisation comes on the back of rising tensions between the most economically and militarily powerful nations in the world. In the last five years, the MENA region recorded the five largest deteriorations in military expenditure.

The economic impact of violence to the global economy in 2020 was $14.96 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. This figure is equivalent to 11.6 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product) or $1,942 per person. The economic impact of violence increased by 0.2 per cent during 2020. This was mainly driven by an increase in global military expenditure, which rose by 3.7 per cent, however, the economic impact of terrorism fell by 17.5 per cent.

Violence continues to have a significant impact on the world’s economic performance. In the ten countries most affected by violence, the average economic impact of violence was equivalent to 36 per cent of GDP, compared to just under four per cent in the countries least affected by violence. Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and the Central African Republic incurred the largest proportional economic cost of violence in 2020, equivalent to 82, 42, 40, and 37 per cent of GDP, respectively.

Violence remains one of the most pressing issues for people globally. This year’s report looks at the newly released Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll which examines attitudes towards risk and violence across 145 countries. The poll found that violence is cited as the biggest risk to daily safety in nearly a third of countries, and is the second most cited risk globally behind road accidents. Worldwide, over 60 per cent of people are at least somewhat worried about sustaining serious harm from violent crime.

Around 18 per cent of people globally have suffered from an experience of violence, meaning that they or someone they know experienced serious harm from violent crime at some point in the last two years. The experience of violence is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are five countries where more than half of the population have had a recent experience of violence.

Despite the high fear of violence across the world, most people feel that the world is getting safer. Nearly 75 per cent of people globally feel as safe or more safe today than they did five years ago. The region that fared the worst was South America, where over 50 per cent of those surveyed felt less safe than five years ago.

The country that recorded the highest fear of violence was Brazil, where nearly 83 per cent of Brazilians were very worried about being a victim of violent crime. However, the experience of violence is greatest in Namibia, where 63 per cent of the population experienced serious harm from violence, or known someone who had in the previous two years. Feelings of safety deteriorated the most in Lebanon. Just over 81 per cent of Lebanese people feel that the world was less safe in 2019 compared to 2014.

The key to building peacefulness in times of conflict and uncertainty is Positive Peace. It can also be used to forecast future falls in peacefulness, with accuracy rates of up to 90 per cent. Positive Peace is defined as the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. Countries that have higher levels of peace, as measured by the GPI, than Positive Peace are said to have a ‘Positive Peace deficit’. This is where a country records a higher level of peacefulness than can be sustained by its level of socio-economic development. Most countries found to be in deficit subsequently record increasing levels of violence. Ninety per cent of the countries with the ten largest Positive Peace deficit places in 2009 had substantial deteriorations in peace between 2009 and 2019.

The Pillars of Positive Peace interact systemically to support a society’s attitudes, institutions and structures that underpin development and peacebuilding. High levels of Positive Peace occur where attitudes make violence less tolerated, institutions are resilient and more responsive to society’s needs, and structures create an environment for the nonviolent resolution of grievances.

The Most Peaceful Countries in the World

 

  1. 🇮🇸 1. Iceland
  2. 🇳🇿 2. New Zealand
  3. 🇩🇰 3. Denmark
  4. 🇵🇹 4. Portugal
  5. 🇸🇮 5. Slovenia
  6. 🇦🇹 6. Austria
  7. 🇨🇭7. Switzerland
  8. 🇮🇪 8. Ireland
  9. 🇨🇿 9. Czech Republic
  10. 🇨🇦 10. Canada

The Least Peaceful Countries in the World

 

  1. 🇦🇫 1. Afghanistan
  2. 🇾🇪 2. Yemen
  3. 🇸🇾 3. Syria
  4. 🇸🇸 4. South Sudan
  5. 🇮🇶 5. Iraq
  6. 🇸🇴 6. Somalia
  7. 🇨🇩 7. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  8. 🇱🇾 8. Libya
  9. 🇨🇫 9. Central African Republic
  10. 🇷🇺 10. Russia

Key Findings

Section 1: Results

  • The average level of global peacefulness deteriorated by 0.07 per cent in the 2021 Global Peace Index. Although a relatively small deterioration, this is the ninth time in the last 13 years that global peacefulness has deteriorated.
  • In the past year, 87 countries recorded an improvement in peacefulness, while 73 countries recorded a deterioration. Three countries recorded no change in their overall score.
  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remained the world’s least peaceful region. It is home to three of the five least peaceful countries in the world. However, it recorded the largest regional improvement over the past year.
  • Europe remains the most peaceful region in the world. The region is home to eight of the ten most peaceful countries, and no country in Europe is ranked outside the top half of the index.
  • Peacefulness improved on average for the Ongoing Conflict domain, but deteriorated in both the Militarisation and Safety and Security domains. This was the first time that the Militarisation domain had the largest deterioration.
  • Of the 23 GPI indicators, 11 recorded an improvement, ten had a deterioration, and two recorded no change over the past year.
  • There was an increase in military expenditure as a percentage of GDP for the second straight year, with 105 countries deteriorating on this indicator, exacerbated in part by falling economic activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Despite the overall deterioration on the Safety and Security domain, there were a number of indicators that improved, including the internal conflict and terrorism impact indicators. Deaths from terrorism have been decreasing for the past six years.
  • The pandemic had a significant impact on levels of conflict and violence. The level of civil unrest rose in 2020, fuelled in large part by responses to government’s measure designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Over 5,000 pandemic- related violent events were recorded between January 2020 and April 2021.

Section 2: Trends

  • Since 2008, the level of global peacefulness has deteriorated by two per cent, with 75 countries recording a deterioration, while 86 improved.
  • The average level of global peacefulness has deteriorated for nine of the past 13 years.
  • The gap between the least and most peaceful countries continues to grow. Since 2008, the 25 least peaceful countries declined on average by 12.1 per cent, while the 25 most peaceful countries improved by 4.3 per cent.
  • Conflict in the Middle East has been the key driver of the global deterioration in peacefulness since 2008.
  • Of the three GPI domains, two recorded a deterioration, while one improved. Ongoing Conflict deteriorated by 6.2 per cent and Safety and Security deteriorated by 2.5 per cent. However, Militarisation improved by 4.2 per cent.
  • The improving trend in Militarisation was widespread, with 111 of the 163 countries covered in the GPI improving. Eighty- seven countries reduced their military expenditure as a percentage of GDP, although military spending increased in absolute terms.
  • However, since 2014 there has been little improvement in the Militarisation domain and there are now signs that militarisation is increasing.
  • The number of forcibly displaced people increased from just over 40 million in 2007, to over 84 million in 2020.
  • The indicator with the largest deterioration globally was the terrorism impact indicator. Ninety countries recorded an increase in terrorist activity since 2008. However, the total number of deaths from terrorism has been falling globally since 2014.
  • Although the number of conflicts and deaths from conflict have been falling, the long-term impact of conflict remains high.
  • Demonstrations, general strikes, and riots rose by 244 per cent between 2011 and 2019.
  • 2020 was the first year since 2010 that the indicators for intensity of conflict and number of conflicts improved. Since 2010, the number of conflicts globally has increased by 88 per cent.

Section 3: The Economic Impact

  • The global economic impact of violence was $14.96 trillion PPP in 2020, equivalent to 11.6 per cent of global GDP or $1,942 per person. The year-on-year increase was primarily due to higher levels of military expenditure.
  • The global economic impact of violence worsened for the second year in a row, increasing by 0.2 per cent or $32 billion from 2019 to 2020. However, it is still $535.9 billion lower than in 2007.
  • In 2020, the economic impact of armed conflict decreased by 7.6 per cent, to $448.1 billion. The decline was driven by improvements in the number of deaths from terrorism and GDP losses from conflict, which fell by 17.5 and 13.7 per cent, respectively. This is the lowest impact since 2013.
  • Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan incurred the highest relative economic cost of violence in 2020, equivalent to 81.7, 42.1 and 40.3 per cent of GDP, respectively.
  • In the ten countries most economically affected by violence, the average economic cost was equivalent to 35.7 per cent of GDP. In the ten most peaceful countries, the average economic cost of violence was equal to just 4.2 per cent of GDP.
  • At $266.1 billion, the economic impact of refugees and internally displaced persons was more than three times higher than the GDP losses from conflict.
  • North Korea, Cuba and Burkina Faso were the countries with the steepest increases, all recording increases above 80 per cent. Equatorial Guinea, Venezuela and Libya recorded the largest decreases, all above 30 per cent.
  • From 2007 to 2020, 81 countries decreased their economic cost of violence while 82 increased their cost.
  • The economic impact of suicide was $683.9 billion and represented 4.6 per cent of the global total. This is higher than all of the Armed Conflict indicators combined and increased by 0.9 per cent from the prior year.
  • In 2020, the economic impact of violence improved across four regions — MENA, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and Russia and Eurasia.
  • Central America and the Caribbean recorded the largest improvement in its economic impact in 2020, improving by 7.6 per cent, mainly driven by reductions in the number of refugees and displacements. However, its overall deterioration of 46.2 per cent since 2007 is the largest of any region.

Section 4: Risk and Peace

  • One in seven people globally cite crime, violence or terrorism as the greatest risk to their safety in their daily lives. Only road accidents are cited as a bigger risk.
  • Nearly 20 per cent of people surveyed have experienced serious harm from violent crime, or known someone personally who has experienced serious harm in the past two years.
  • Violence is seen as the biggest risk to daily safety in 49 of the 142 countries in the risk poll. Over 50 per cent of people in Afghanistan, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic see violence as the greatest risk they face in their daily lives.
  • Over 60 per cent of people globally are worried about sustaining serious harm from violent crime in the future.
  • Despite the majority of people fearing sustaining harm from violent crime, most people also feel the world is getting safer. Nearly 75 per cent of people feel as safe or more safe today than they did five years ago.
  • Authoritarian regimes have the highest reported rates of increased feelings of safety, with 35 per cent of people reporting that they felt safer in 2019 than they did in 2014.
  • South America had the worst result of any region with over 50 per cent of people surveyed feeling less safe now than five years ago.
  • In most countries, perceptions of violence match the risk of being a victim of violence. There is a strong correlation between feeling unsafe and having been a victim of violence, or knowing someone who has been a victim.
  • The five countries with the largest proportion of people who experienced violence or know someone who had are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Namibia has the highest rate in the world, at 63 per cent, followed by South Africa, Lesotho, Liberia, and Zambia
  • Singapore reported the lowest levels of fear of violence in the world. Less than five per cent of Singaporeans report being very worried about being the victim of violent crime.
  • Globally, Rwanda has the highest proportion of people who feel safer today than they did five years ago.

Section 5: Positive Peace

  • Countries that have a higher rank in Negative Peace than in Positive Peace are said to have a Positive Peace deficit. This is where a country records a higher level of peacefulness than can be sustained by its level of socio-economic development. Most countries found to be in deficit subsequently record increasing levels of violence.
  • Sixty-nine per cent of countries with a Positive Peace deficit of 20 places or more in 2009 had substantial deteriorations in peace between 2009 and 2019.
  • When the threshold is raised to 50 places this percentage increases to 90 per cent.
  • The ten largest deteriorations in the GPI ranking from 2009 to 2019 were recorded in Libya, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Mozambique, Cameroon, Tunisia and Ukraine. Of these countries, seven had large Positive Peace deficits in 2009. This underscores the predictive power of the Positive Peace deficit model.
  • On average, deficit countries that recorded increases in violence saw their GPI Internal Peace score deteriorate by 17.8 per cent from 2009 to 2019. This is compared to a 0.3 per cent deterioration for the median country on the GPI.
  • Looking forward, 30 countries recorded substantial Positive Peace deficits in 2019 and may deteriorate further into violence in the coming years. Of particular concern, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea combine large Positive Peace deficits with a long trend of PPI deteriorations over the past decade.
  • Other nations in deficit in 2019 – such as Liberia, Zambia, Guinea-Bissau, Bangladesh, Qatar and Rwanda – have also recorded PPI deteriorations in recent years.
  • Countries identified as having a Positive Peace surplus in 2009 on average improved in the GPI by 1.9 per cent over the past decade.
  • Of the eight Pillars of Positive Peace, Low Levels of Corruption, Acceptance of the Rights of Others, Sound Business Environment, Well-Functioning Government and Good Relations with Neighbours are the most important to improve in countries suffering from high levels of violence.
  • Free Flow of Information, Equitable Distribution of Resources and High Levels of Human Capital become more important as countries move away from very low levels of peace.
  • Low Levels of Corruption is the only Pillar that is strongly correlated with the GPI across all levels of peacefulness. Improvements in this Pillar are associated with reductions in violence in low-peace, medium-peace and high-peace countries.
  • Uneven improvements in the Pillars of Positive Peace can lead to increased violence, highlighting the importance of a holistic, systemic approach to building Positive Peace. This is especially true for premature development in Pillars such as High Levels of Human Capital, Sound Business Environment and Free Flow of Information.
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Global Peace Index 2021

This is an excerpt from the 15th edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI), which ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. Read the entire Global Peace Index 2021 here.

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