The 2017 Global Peace Index shows that the world became slightly more peaceful in 2016. While this is a positive trend, it also reveals an increasingly complex and divided world.

Measuring an increasingly divided and complex world

This improvement comes despite severe ongoing conflict and humanitarian crises in many of the least peaceful countries of the world, as well as increased internal conflict and instability in the United States. So what is driving this positive trend?

This year’s Global peace Index (GPI) data captures a paradoxical situation in global affairs – 2016 saw the continuation of several negative trends from ongoing conflict in Syria, Libya, Iraq, South Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan, not to mention the increased instability in the United States – yet, the global average peace score showed a slightly more peaceful world.

While this is a positive trend, it also reveals an increasingly complex and divided world.

Three major factors explain the immediate positive trend in 2016.

(1) Many more countries made relatively slight improvements in peace compared to those that deteriorated – 93 countries improved versus 68 that deteriorated.

The sum of these many improvements was simply greater than the deteriorations.

(2) The indicators measuring nations’ Societal Safety and Security and Militarisation improved, with key indicators measuring the homicide rate and political terror improving in many countries.

(3) While devastating ongoing conflict continues in many of the least peaceful countries in the world, many of these conflicts plateaued in their intensity or were restricted to moderate escalations from their already high levels of violence.

Despite this positive result, it is important to note that the 2017 GPI measures a significantly less peaceful world than in 2008.

The last ten years have seen increases in conflict deaths not seen for 25 years and historic increases in the number of refugees and displaced people, the levels of terrorism, as well as several new conflicts that even in the most optimistic scenarios will take many years to solve and rebuild from.

This reveals a major underlying and unreported global trend, which is growing – the phenomenon of peace inequality and a more divided world than before.

On several of these key measures, the 2017 data show only moderate plateauing of these devastating numbers.

There was a slight ten per cent reduction in deaths from terrorism, a moderate fall in conflict deaths from 167,000 to 157,000, but a further increase in the number of refugees and displaced people to 63.9 million people –almost one per cent of the global population.

This reveals a major underlying and unreported global trend, which is growing – the phenomenon of peace inequality and a more divided world than before.

This is not so much a story of the ‘rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’ but rather one whereby the most peaceful are generally maintaining their levels of peace and the 20 least peaceful nations are becoming dramatically more violent and insecure.

The data show ongoing-armed conflict and the widespread use of terrorist tactics is further eroding the peacefulness of these 20 least peaceful countries, which is home to almost one billion people.

This is in stark contrast to the situation for the 4.8 billion people who live in the 93 countries that improved in peace over the last year.

In many of these countries, rates of everyday interpersonal violence are improving, with the indicator measuring the homicide rate recording improvements in 67% of the countries in the GPI.

Given homicide still accounts for the great majority of lethal violent death, this is a profoundly positive development.

Furthermore, despite concerning and notable increases in political violence in major countries such as the Philippines, Burundi and Turkey, many more countries improved on the indicator measuring political terror.

Based on data from the Amnesty International Human Rights report, US State Department Human rights report and Human Rights Watch report, 42 per cent of countries in the Political Terror Index improved on the extent of state-sponsored violence and terror, the levels of imprisonment without trial, extent of political suppression, extra-judicial killings and torture.

This too is an important achievement and sign of progress.

Largely, many of these positive developments have been obscured in the context of the United States’ notable deterioration in peace. Importantly, the changes in two major indicators driving the US’s deterioration occurred in 2016.

There was an increase in the homicide rate from 4.4 to 4.9 per 100,000, reflecting the uptick in violence in several major American cities, and an increase in the extent of internal conflict due to increased violent demonstrations and new levels of political polarisation from the long Presidential Election campaign.

There is no simple narrative summarising this year’s GPI results. While there are important positive developments that need to be acknowledged, the data also shows a more divided and unequal world, a world in which millions are still deprived of the fundamental right to live in freedom from violence and peace.