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2015 Global Peace Index: an increasingly divided world

Posted on 23/06/2015

On the 17th June, the Department of War Studies was proud to host the launch of the 2015 Global Peace Index. Steve Killelea, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, unveiled the 2015 Global Peace Index. The event was introduced by Professor Edward Byrne AC, moderated by Reuters correspondent Peter Apps with comments by experts Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman , Emeritus Professor of War Studies, and Lieutenant-General Jonathon Peter Riley, CB, DSO. 

Peacefulness in Europe has reached an historic high while the Middle East is spiralling into deepening violence according to figures outlined in the 2015 Global Peace Index, revealed at King’s College London by the Institute for Economics and Peace. 

The latest Global Peace Index reveals an increasingly divided world: many countries achieve historic levels of peace, while strife-torn nations continue to degrade into violence - Iceland tops the ranks as the most peaceful country in the world and Syria is the least peaceful.

The complex and dynamic fabric of peace around the world is explored in detail in the 2015 Peace Index report. The report covers eight year trends in peace, calculates the economic impact of violence, and provides an innovative analysis of positive peace, describing its relationship to development and other significant and positive societal outcomes.

Violence impact

The impact of violence on the global economy reached US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP in the last year, equivalent to the combined economies of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the UK. Almost 1% of the world’s population are now refugees or internally displaced (IDPs), the highest level since 1945, and numbers are expected to increase.

Europe remained the most peaceful geographical region in the world, securing the top three positions in the GPI. Its peacefulness has improved every year for the past four years. Iceland ranks first. Meanwhile, Greece was the region’s greatest improver, jumping 22 places in the global rankings as it experienced lower violent crime and political terror. The UK, a major player in Afghanistan, rose eight places in the rankings as a result of its exit from the Afghan mission. 

Many OECD countries reached historically high levels of peace, boosted by reductions in their homicide rates, levels of military expenditure and military engagements. Despite global peace levels remaining stable over the last year, however, the world is less peaceful today than it was in 2008. Over the last year, 81 countries have become more peaceful, while 78 have become more violent. 

Global terrorism increased with the number of people killed in attacks reaching an estimated 20,000 in 2014. The data also indicates an escalation in the intensity of armed conflict, with figures of armed conflict-related casualties nearly quadrupling from 2010 to 2014.  Violence is also having a stronger impact on the global economy. Last year, the global economic impact of violence reached US$13.4 trillion, equalling 13.4% of world GDP 

Middle East more violent

Steve Killelea, founder of the Index  said, “2014 was marked by two contradictory trends, on one hand many countries in the OECD achieved historic levels of peace while on the other, strife-torn nations, especially in the Middle East, became more violent. This is a real concern; as these conflicts become even more intractable they then spread terrorism to other states.”

He said the Middle East and North Africa had seen the most dramatic fall in peace in 8 years.

‘There is some good news – most countries (116) have improved, even if only marginally. The more stable a country is, the more resilient it is to shocks –for example, Iceland and the financial crisis.’

But panelist Lieutenant-General Jonathan Peter Riley noted that: ‘Order is not the same thing as security’ –noting examples of regimes like the Taliban – ‘Very few people in those situations would have been described as being ‘secure’- especially minorities and women.’

Breaking the cycle

Reuters correspondent Peter Apps who was moderating the panel discussion, said: ‘The big take-away is that we have a trend of a substantial decline in global peace –which is worrying, because it is unusual.’

King’s Emeritus Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman agreed. He critiqued Steven Pinker’s theory about the historical decline of violence in the world, based on human behaviour and social development. Noting how Ukraine was recently pulled into conflict, Sir Lawrence argued that 'we have to address the geo-political factors as well.' He praised Steve Killelea’s work creating the Peace Index as ‘an extraordinarily useful body of information’ and added: ‘The best indicator of future conflict is past conflict. The challenge is how we break that cycle.'

A copy of the report can be downloaded here. A recording of the event can be found here

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