America, land of peace? Forget about it.
The United States is just the 85th most peaceful nation on earth, according to the fourth annual Global Peace Index (GPI), a statistical ranking based on a spectrum of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators — from political stability and military expenditures to gun sales, violent crime and "respect for human rights."
The 85th position does not even rank the U.S. in the upper half in the 149-nation list, which was released Tuesday.
But some of the countries ranked ahead of the U.S. may raise a few eyebrows: China, Cuba, Libya, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Chile and the United Arab Emirates are among them, based on their relative peacefulness within their own borders and with neighbors. At its most basic, the GPI simply defines peace as "an absence of violence."
The top 10?
For the second year in a row, New Zealand is in first place, followed by Iceland, Japan, Austria, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden.
The bottom 10 countries are North Korea, Congo, Chad, Georgia, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and, in very last place, Iraq.
Among our Western allies, Canada is ranked 14th; Germany, 16th; Spain, 25th; the United Kingdom, 31st; France, 32nd; and Italy in the 40th spot.
"The Global Peace Index uses the definition that the absence of violence is the definition of peace. That's something that most everyone can agree on," GPI founder and Australian technology entrepreneur and philanthropist Steven Killelea told The Washington Times.
"We're not out to make moral or value judgments here. We're out to measure the peacefulness of nations, and determine what cultural attributes and other internal structures create a peaceful society," he said.
Australia, incidentally, was ranked 19th on the GPI list.
Mr. Killelea is keenly interested in the economics of peace and insists that peace is, essentially, cheaper.
"I am a simple businessman who asked, 'What do we know about peace?' And what I found was that the concept of 'peace' was changing all the time, and more importantly, we don't know a lot about the economics of peace. But I will say this: It's a lot cheaper to build structures of peace in a society," he said.
"Look at the cost of terrorism on the U.S., for example, on the airlines, on the extra loss of time going through security, multiplied over many passengers. It all adds up," Mr. Killelea added. "Or consider that regardless of how you feel about the Iraq war, it is still a huge drain on the U.S. economy."
Still, the determination of peacefulness is a complicated process.
A six-member board of international analysts and academics determined the parameters of the measurements, which also tallied the prison populations in each nation, the likelihood of violent demonstrations, "perceptions of criminality in society," the potential for terrorist acts and the "ease of access to small arms and light weapons," among other things.
The GPI is also based on a secondary set of 33 indicators that plumb the finer points of the nations in question, gauging the quality of democracy, the strength of a nation's institutions and political process, plus their religious, educational and cultural dynamics.
Mr. Killelea also has founded the Institute for Economics and Peace, a "global" think tank with a mission to parse out the relationship among economic development, business and peace.
"We've come up with a reasonable definition of peace, and one that can be measured in a numerical way. This idea has captured the imaginations of governments, researchers, philanthropists," said Clyde McConaghy, president of the group.
The researchers ultimately hope to use all their sets of data to determine what "drivers" that may influence "the creation and nurturance" of peaceful societies.
The complete Global Peace Index can be viewed at www.visionofhumanity.org.
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