- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

America: land of the free, home of the brave — and peaceful? Don’t bet on it.

China, Senegal, Egypt, Cuba and Indonesia are among the many nations ranked more peaceful than the U.S. according to the fifth annual Global Peace Index, which ranked 153 nations according to a set of 23 strict criteria that includes ongoing domestic and international conflict, societal security and militarization.

The U.S. ranks 82nd on the list, right behind Gabon, and just before Bangladesh.

We’re not as bellicose, perhaps, as Russia at 147, or Israel at 145. America’s standing is actually improving on the index, released Wednesday by the Institute for Economics & Peace, an Australian research group that equates a more tranquil life with economic benefits. Peace is essentially cheaper for most societies, they say.

“America’s ranking is a distinct improvement. Three years ago, the U.S. was in the bottom quarter, ranked 96 out of 120 nations. Now, it’s about halfway up the list. So it’s improving, and relatively speaking, the U.S. has done pretty well,” said board member Clyde McConaghy.

“A reduction in violent crime has had a good influence in the U.S., but this was also offset by a rise in the number of deaths by external conflict,” he said, adding that the new index essentially revealed that we live in a “slightly less peaceful” world in 2011.

Meanwhile, what nations set the temperate example? “Small, stable democratic countries” get the most accolades from the index. Despite its recent economic woes and volcanic eruptions, Iceland is in first place, followed by New Zealand, Japan, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, Canada, Norway and Slovenia.

The index described Iceland as “essentially harmonious,” with no standing army or military expenditures, a secure society, low crime and a jail population — 55 per 100,000 people — that is one of the lowest in the world.

Life is tough elsewhere, though. In the bottom 10 nations, Libya is at 143, followed by Central African Republic, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and in last place Somalia. That nation has not had a “nationally functioning state government” since 1991, and registered the highest possible score for internal conflict, the index noted.

Iraq, which has been last on the roster for the last four years, was pulled from the “foot of the list” by increased political stability, the lowest civilian death toll in eight years and improved relations with some neighboring countries. Still, Iraq received the highest potential scores in terms of homicides, violent crime, the likelihood of violent demonstrations and the potential for terrorist acts.

The Global Peace Index, which was originally developed and financed in 2006 by Australian technology entrepreneur Steve Killelea, has a certain rogue practicability about it. Researchers from academic institutions in eight countries methodically scored each country based on strict statistics from sources that include the World Bank, the International Institute of Strategic Studies and UNESCO.

The researchers cited the United Nation’s decision to launch a “culture of peace” project in 1999 that emphasizes values, attitudes and behaviors, plus such concepts as gender equality, “tolerant solidarity” and open communications.

“However, these links between the concept of peace and the causes of them were presumed rather than systematically measured,” the research said.

There is some motivational fare at work, however.

“The second aim is to use the underlying data to undertake investigations into the relative importance of a range of potential determinants or ‘drivers’ that may influence the creation and nurturing of peaceful societies,” the index said.

“To a certain extent, people get emotional about these results. That’s worth it, as long as it doesn’t lead to violence,” acknowledged board member Mr. McConaghy with a grin.

“The question to ask is this. Can this nation improve or get better? That’s the dynamic we’re looking for,” he added.

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