What does peace look like, and how do you measure it? Not with rulers or scales, but a combination of facts and figures, Year 7 students at The Armidale School were told. As part of a week-long study of internationalism – the ‘I’ in the acronym IDEALS of the global school organisation Round Square – boys and girls were told that overall there are some surprising positive trends amidst an increasingly complex world.
Jose Luengo-Cabrera, a research fellow at the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), gave a presentation on the results and methodology of the institute’s flagship product: the Global Peace Index (GPI). He explained how IEP compiles different quantitative and qualitative indicators to generate the GPI, which scores and ranks 163 countries according to their levels of peacefulness. Now in its eleventh year, the GPI is widely used by international organisations like the United Nations and the World Bank but also by governments and civil society organisations as a benchmark to inform decisions on the allocation of resources for peacebuilding.
Mr Luengo-Cabrera said students were surprised to hear that the region where the economic impact of violence was the highest was not the Middle East, but in Central America and the Caribbean, “because it’s a region where the rate of homicide is just over four times the global average. Students were also surprised that the global economic impact of terrorism also went down globally in 2015, despite spiking in Europe due to high-profile incidents across major European capitals,” he said.
Violent crime rates, access to small weapons, levels of perceived criminality, relations with neighbouring countries or the likelihood of violent demonstrations are but a few of the 23 indicators that IEP relies on to build the GPI and which covers 99.7 per cent of the global population. Using a 1-5 scoring scale (1 being perfectly peaceful) countries like Iceland, New Zealand, Portugal, Austria and Denmark are in the top five global ranking whilst countries like Yemen, South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are ranked in the bottom five.
“Because of the fact that the GPI is published on an annual basis and is now in its eleventh edition, IEP is able to identify changes across indicators and how this affects the trend in the overall level of peacefulness across countries.”
While the GPI ranks countries according to indicators that measure levels of violence and political instability more generally, the Positive Peace Index relies on socio-economic and governance indicators that broadly encompass the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. Positive Peace factors can be used as the basis for empirically measuring a country’s resilience, or its ability to absorb and recover from shocks. It can also be used to measure fragility and to help predict the likelihood of conflict, violence and instability.
“Highly peaceful countries are generally those with higher levels of income, driven by a high percentage of their population with access to education and other important public services and where governments are respectful of democratic norms and the rule of law. As such, countries with high Positive Peace are those that score best in the GPI, shedding light on the idea that countries lacking a well-functioning government, where levels of human capital are low, where corruption is rife or resources are not distributed equally are those most at risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict.”
While optimism regarding the prospects for improving world peace is oftentimes watered down by the gloominess of daily news reports, Mr Luengo-Cabrera said there is cause for optimism: “For one, the 2017 GPI results show that peacefulness improved slightly between 2015 and 2016. 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. Many more countries made relatively slight improvements in peace in 2016 compared to those that deteriorated – 93 countries improved versus 68 that deteriorated. The sum of these many improvements was simply greater than the deteriorations. Despite this positive result, it is important to note that the 2017 GPI measures a significantly less peaceful world than in 2008. Notwithstanding, 2016 saw a ten per cent reduction in deaths from terrorism a moderate fall in conflict deaths from 167,000 to 157,000. Looking forward, there is cause for cautious optimism considering some of the positive changes that have been identified in the GPI,” he said.