What can peacebuilders learn from a country of under a million people that has risen 43 places on the Global Peace Index in just over a decade?
Bhutan has recorded the largest improvement in peacefulness out of any country in the top 20 of the latest Global Peace Index (GPI).
The South-Asian nation of less than a million people rose two places on the index in the last year, finding itself the 15th most peaceful country in the world, and in the lead for most peaceful South-Asian regional nation.
Bhutan’s boost in the GPI rankings follows years of steady progress in peacefulness that has seen it rise 43 places in the last 12 years.
Bhutan bolsters South Asia’s regional ranking, a region which also includes three countries in the least peaceful quadrant of the index – India, Pakistan, and the world’s least peaceful country, Afghanistan.
The average South Asian score improved last year due to improvements in Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and a slight gain in Afghanistan. However, the region still has the second lowest rank, just ahead of its neighbour, the Middle East and North African region.
Bhutan improved in four indicators, deteriorated in only two and maintained strong scores in another 15. The police rate and the incarceration rate are Bhutan’s most poorly performing indicators.
Very few Bhutanese are displaced, but the country did improve further on the refugees and IDPs indicator, as did its regional neighbour Afghanistan. Bhutan and Pakistan were amongst the 25 countries with the largest reductions in the homicide rate last year. The region typically outperforms the global average on this indicator. Similarly, South Asia usually has lower levels of violent crime than the rest of the world, as the region’s challenges are more likely to be political than criminal.
Previous research from the Institute from Economics and Peace (IEP) provides some insight into how Bhutan has improved peacefulness.
While IEP’s Global Peace Index measures the levels of negative peace in countries – understood as the absence of violence – the Positive Peace Index measures the level of active peacebuilding efforts in countries.
Around the world, certain countries have overcome challenges to their peacefulness, leading to improvements in their Global Peace Index and Positive Peace Index scores.
Using IEP’s Pillars of Positive Peace as a framework, an analysis of Bhutan shows how the country has implemented unique solutions to produce tangible economic, political and social benefits.
Nestled between regional heavyweights India and China, Bhutan stands out for leading South Asia in both negative peace and Positive Peace. Positive Peace is the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies, and include factors such as Well-functioning Government, Free Flowing Information and Sound Business Environment.
Bhutan has undergone great change in recent years. The country’s per capita income has grown steadily from US$340 in 1980 to US$5,570 in 2011, a successful economic leap that was accompanied by the nation’s shift from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 2008, when it elected its National Assembly for the first time.
From a policy perspective, Bhutan is internationally renowned for conceiving Gross National Happiness, a metric that has been codified as a national priority in the country’s constitution.
In recent years, socioeconomic development programs, funded by hydroelectricity exports and foreign aid, have enabled Bhutan to dramatically improve its poverty and education rates.
Targeted government programs such as the Rural Economy Advancement Program and National Rehabilitation Program have provided monetary and infrastructural aid to marginalised communities.
To enhance its business environment, Bhutan established a National Portal that provides legal information essential to entrepreneurs.
Bhutan has faced challenges. The country was under scrutiny for the displacement of over 100,000 Lhotshampas, an ethnic group in southern Bhutan, between 1988 and 1993.
Consistent improvements on the Global Peace Index and Positive Peace Index have established Bhutan as a regional and international role model in terms of peace and development policy.