Peace, some people say, starts with a smile. But ask anyone who lives in one of the most peaceful countries in the world, and they will probably tell you that it is the other way around. These most peaceful nations also enjoy lower interest rates, a stronger currency and higher foreign investment—not to mention better political stability and stronger correlation with the individual level of perceived happiness. Sadly, the economic impact of violence is quantifiable too: on a global scale, in 2018 it amounted to $14.1 trillion in purchasing-power parity (PPP) terms, or to 11.2 % of the total global gross domestic product (if the sheer scale of these figures makes them a little hard to grasp, we are talking about $1,853 for each person on the planet).
These are the most significant takeaways from the 2019 Global Peace Index compiled by the international think-tank Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) covering 163 independent states and territories home to 99.7% of the world’s population. The ranking, which is based on 23 indicators grouped into three criteria (societal safety and security; extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict; and degree of militarization), paints a sobering picture: while the level of global peacefulness improved very slightly for the first time in five years (by 0.09%, with 86 countries improving, and 76 recording deteriorations), the average has declined by 3.78% since 2008. In the meantime, the number of refugees has rocketed to 1% of the global population, the highest level in modern history.
It certainly should not come as a surprise that many longstanding tensions and conflicts, especially in the Middle East and Africa, remain unresolved. Last year, Syria, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic incurred the largest economic cost of violence, equivalent to 67%, 47% and 42% of their GDP respectively (for reference, in the 10 nations most affected by violence, the average cost was 35% of GDP, compared to 3.3% in the 10 least affected). And while some improvement in the level of overall peacefulness was recorded in Europe, peacefulness in Russia, the Eurasia and Asia-Pacific region, in South and Central America, the Caribbean and the United States took a hit.
This year, the U.S. dropped seven spots to 128, well behind China (which gained two positions at 110) and a little too close to the least peaceful country in the world: Afghanistan (163).
#10 | CZECH REPUBLIC
Down three spot from last year, over the last decade the Czech Republic has showed a sustained improvement in a great number of areas ranging from political stability to personal security and international relations.
According to the OECD, it also performs well in many measures of wellbeing, ranking above average in jobs and earnings, work-life balance and education and skills. Not only have 94% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education—well above the average rate of 78% and the highest among the 34 industrialized member countries—but this small nation of 10.5 million can boast the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union at 2.2%, below what economists consider a “natural” level.
#9 | JAPAN
Maintaining the ninth spot in the Global Peace Index, Japan is three times more densely populated than Europe and twelve times more than the U.S. Yet it still manages to ranks highly for both peace and quality of life. Theft and other felonies, the National Police Agency notes, are so passé too: over the past few years, the number of recorded crimes continued to decrease to historically low levels—a trend also reflected in the low incarceration rate, which in Japan has followed a downward trajectory starting from the 1950s.
However, when it comes to neighboring countries relations, shaky relationships with China and especially North Korea are often mentioned by the Japanese as reasons of concerns. Japan’s “peace constitution”—put in place following the Second World War to prohibit the resurrection of aggressive militarism—was reinterpreted in 2014 to enable “collective self- defense,” hence prompting a restructure and build-up of the country’s strategic capabilities.
#8 | SLOVENIA
The sole new entry in this year’s index top 10, Slovenia climbed three spots from 2018 and it is the top performing nation in emerging Europe. Hungary (21), Slovakia (23), Romania (25), Bulgaria (26), Croatia (28) and Poland (29) also rank high amongst the 163 countries surveyed by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Overall 22 of 36 countries in Europe improved, with the continent accounting for 17 of the 25 most peaceful nations and only Turkey, at 152, ranked amongst the least peaceful in the world.
A legend says that when God distributed the land to all the nations, he forgot the Slovenians because there were so few of them (they still barely reach 2 million). To apologize, he gave them a little piece of paradise he had saved for himself. Slovenia’s territory, half of which is covered by forests, boasts one of the greatest level of biodiversity in the continent: with only one hour drive from the capital Ljubljana, you can either swim in the Adriatic sea or climb the Julian Alps. Why wouldn’t anyone be at peace in a place like that?
#7 | SINGAPORE
While the Global Peace Index report shows an increasingly violent world, Singapore has become more peaceful. Way more peaceful: it advanced 13 places up from 21st place in 2018 and gained one more position this year. What prompted this remarkable jump? The Institute for Economics and Peace points out that the largest improvements in the ranking are usually broadly based while large deteriorations in peace are usually led by a few indicators. So while Singapore scored highly in the aspects of societal safety and security and low levels of domestic and international conflict, holding it back from the very top spots of the ranking is the level of militarization, with red marks when it comes to armed services personnel, police forces and weapons import expenditure. The reason? Singapore depends on seaborne trade for its prosperity, so having the resources to ensure the smooth passage of vessels through the Strait of Malacca, the narrow stretch of water that serves as a gateway between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is crucial.
#6 | CANADA
Canada is the sixth safest out of 163 nations, a title it held also last year, getting good marks when it comes to factors related to internal conflicts, levels of crime and political stability. The world’s second largest country by landmass, while relatively small in terms of population with just 37 million residents, punches above its weight in economic terms. As a top-trading nation, it is also one of the richest. Add to the mix excellent job opportunities, good health facilities and effective governance and you will have one of the best countries to live in. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has issued warnings about Canada’s economy, saying the country faces significant risks due to trade tensions with the U.S.
#5 | DENMARK
Denmark has held the number two spot for five years in a row from 2011 to 2016, dropping subsequently to number five in 2017, where it remained ever since. A safe country to travel and live in, it is characterized by low levels of crime, a high degree of political stability, freedom of the press and respect for human rights. It also boasts a high level of income equality and is frequently ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world. The recent drop in the peace ranking is due to a deterioration in some of its militarization indicators. In 2017, to counter the threat Russia’s increasing military activity in eastern and northern Europe, Denmark reached a landmark cross-party political deal to increase its defense budget by 20%, on course to match its Nordic neighbors Sweden’s and Norway’s expenditure levels.
#4 | AUSTRIA
Austria slips one spot in the Global Peace Index compared to last year. Since the end of the Cold War, this small landlocked country of just 8.7 million moved from its peripheral position at the borderline between East and West closer to the center of a larger Europe. As a young member of the EU and outside of NATO, Austria prided itself into trying to get along with rival political blocs and embracing new forms of cooperation with its neighbors. However, while Austria performs well in many measures of wellbeing such as income, jobs and housing, the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in the coalition government and the crackdown on migrants has recently sparked rallies in the streets and widespread anxiety among European allies.
#3 | PORTUGAL
Portugal marches to the beat of its own drum when it comes to peace and safety. While over the past few years a majority European countries have deteriorated or have shown very minor improvements, this nation of about 10 million people has emerged as one of the biggest climbers, moving from the 18th position in 2014-2015 to the fifth in 2016. This year, gaining one spot from 2018, it jumps back on the podium at the number three spot, a position it also held in 2017. Ranking above the industrialized nations’ average in terms housing, work-life balance, personal security and environmental quality, Portugal is also rated as one of the top three favorite expat destinations for the overall quality of the lifestyle experience. Even better, there is no need to break the bank to enjoy the Portuguese way of living: the republic remains one of the most affordable destinations on the continent.
#2 | NEW ZEALAND
Holding on to the #2 spot in the index since 2017, over the past 10 years New Zealand has never slipped below fourth place in the Global Peace Index. Scoring almost perfect marks in the domains of domestic and international conflict, militarization and societal safety, is widely considered a wonderful country to live in.
At around the same size as the United Kingdom but with a population of just 4.7 million people, New Zealand ranks at the top in health status and above the average among OECD members when it comes to education, jobs and earnings. All this, however, comes at a cost: the shortage of affordable housing is increasingly making difficult for people with low incomes to buy homes, with the gap between rich and poor considered the top economic issue facing New Zealand by 20% of its citizens.
#1 | ICELAND
Icelanders can sleep well at night: they live in the most peaceful country in the world. No news is good news when it comes to tranquil Iceland: it is the tenth year in a row that it retains the number one spot. With no standing army, navy or air force and the smallest population of any NATO member state (about 350,000 people), Iceland also enjoys record- low crime rates, an enviable education and welfare system and ranks among the best nations in terms of jobs and earnings and subjective sense of wellbeing.
Iceland has also managed the impossible: with 97% of the citizens describing themselves as middle and working class, tension between economic classes is often described as “non-existent.” Is it really any wonder that Iceland is also one of the happiest countries in the world?
WORLD’S MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRIES – FULL LIST
|18||Belgium (tied with Sweden)|
|45||United Kingdom (tied with Laos)|
|53||United Arab Emirates|
|55||South Korea (tied with Madagascar)|
|60||Namibia (tied with France)|
|65||North Macedonia (tied with Greece)|
|72||Sri Lanka (tied with Benin and Eswatini)|
|72||Eswatini (tied with Benin and Sri Lanka)|
|81||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|93||Trinidad and Tobago|
|98||Papa New Guinea|
|105||Uganda (tied with Tajikistan)|
|107||Cote d’ Ivoire|
|121||Republic of the Congo|
|155||Democratic Republic of the Congo|
|157||Central African Republic|