WASHINGTON -- The world became slightly less peaceful in 2009, representing a second straight year of setbacks. That's according to the newly released Global Peace Index
(GPI), a ranking of 149 countries based on factors ranging from potential for terrorist attacks to military expenditures to relations with neighboring countries.
The Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace, which publishes the index, considers more than 20 domestic and international factors in determining a country's rating. The index uses data obtained from the UN and Amnesty International, among other groups, and is overseen by a panel of peace experts.
AT THE BOTTOM
Now in its fourth year, the Global Peace Index is the first survey to try to quantify the philosophically challenging idea of peace.
Clyde McConaghy, a board director at the Institute for Economics and Peace, says last year's declines were primarily based on events inside countries' borders.
"The world in the last 12 months has become less peaceful entirely because of worsenings in internal indicators," McConaghy says. "Those include the homicide rate globally; levels of corruption have actually worsened, as well; [and] there has been some worsening also in political instability around the world. These collectively have led to what we call a 1 or 2 percent worsening in the peacefulness in the world."Effects Of Georgian War
External conflicts have left their mark, too.
Russia fell to 143rd place in the rankings due in part to the lingering effects of the 2008 Georgian war, which include a heightened risk of a new armed conflict and plummeting relations with Tbilisi.
A military parade in Tbilisi on Independence Day on May 26
Georgia joined Russia as one of the top five countries that plummeted the furthest in the peace rankings.
"Georgia suffers there as well -- an increase in violent demonstrations, a big decrease in political stability in the year of measurement, increases in military expenditure as a percentage of GDP, and imports of weaponry," says Andrew Williamson of the Economist Intelligence Unit, who oversaw much of the research that went into the index.
"So clearly [Georgia is] a nation that's suffering in the GPI measurement because of a big ramp-up in military expenditure."
Ranked below both Georgia and Russia, not surprisingly, is Iraq. War-torn and plagued by insurgent attacks, the country is ranked as the world's least peaceful for a fourth consecutive year.
The indicator for the level of organized conflict within the country remained at the highest possible score in 2009, although the country's score for political stability did show slight improvement.Afghanistan Near The Bottom
Frequent terrorist attacks, significant population displacement, and the ongoing NATO-led campaign inside Afghanistan positioned it just two spots above Iraq, in 147th place.
Neighboring Pakistan's peace rating dropped three spots this year, to 145th.
While there was less peace in Central Asia, its declines were smaller than in South Asia and Latin America.
Kazakhstan, in 95th place, ranked as Central Asia's most peaceful country -- only 10 spots below the United States, which was 85th.
AT THE TOP
1. New Zealand
At the very top of the list, New Zealand extended its run to two consecutive years as the world's most peaceful country.
Scandinavian countries also reproduced their previous high marks, with all ranked inside the Top 10. Links To Global Recession
Along with publishing the Global Peace Index, the Institute for Economics and Peace studies the relationship between world financial markets and conflict.
Part of last year's peace downturn, it says, is linked to the recession of late 2008, which in some nations contributed to political instability and fueled demonstrations.
Research accompanying this year's index also suggests a way to help replenish the world's drained coffers.
"What we did," says McConaghy, "is we estimated the opportunity cost to the global economy of violence, and that came out at about $7 trillion [per year] -- a massive amount of money in anybody's language given the issues that are happening in the world at the moment. If you look at the cost of the impact of the economic recession that has happened in the last two years, that's about $3 trillion.
"So what we're saying is if the world actually focused a bit on lessening violence, there would be a disproportionate improvement in the level of economic activity, far exceeding the level of the global recession."
Other correlations appended to the index suggest links between peace and democratic governance, peace and free press, and peace and international involvement.