The world became slightly less peaceful in the past year, punctuated by violent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, but also marked by successes in countries like Slovenia and Georgia.
That's according to the latest edition of the Global Peace Index
, an annual ranking of 153 countries.
Its findings show that the average world peace score dropped by just over 1 percent -- a number that may seem small, but which represents the continuation of a steady slide, as well as some dramatic recent events.
"By and large, during the time that we've done this index -- now over five years -- we can say that the state of global peace has gotten a bit worse, especially between 2010 and 2011," says Leo Abruzzese from the Economist Intelligence Unit, which provides much of the data for the ranking
"Now, why is that? Perhaps the biggest reason that things got worse last year is interesting: It has a lot to do with the 'Arab Spring' that we've seen over the last few months."
The Philosophically Challenging Idea Of Peace
The data, obtained from the United Nations, rights groups, and other sources, reflects more than 20 internal and external indicators of peace, including the number of deaths from conflict, the threat of terrorism, the likelihood of violent demonstrations, and the national military budget.
Published by Australia's Institute for Economics and Peace, the index is the first in the crowded world of think-tank-produced rankings to try and quantify the philosophically challenging idea of peace.
Libya experienced a huge drop in its rating thanks to the recent unrest in the country.
While more stable, peaceful societies could emerge in the region as a result of the Arab uprisings, says Abruzzese, the immediate result was a dramatic rankings drop for countries like Libya and Bahrain. Libya's fall of 83 places was the largest in the history of the index.
Libya is ranked just one place ahead of the 10 least-peaceful nations in the world during the past year, a group that includes Pakistan, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
In the case of Iraq, however, there is also a bright side, even though its ranking indicates that there is much room for improvement.
More Stability In Iraq
"It's the first time that Iraq hasn't been on the bottom of the Global Peace Index, actually," says Clyde McConaghy, a board member of the Institute for Economics and Peace.
"Even though it's a one-rank move [up], it's nonetheless an important one, because it had improvements on quite a number of the indicators. In didn't just get there because Somalia, [the last on the list], became worse -- in fact, Somalia's score improved -- but Iraq's improved disproportionately more."
Iraq's political stability improved during the past year, highlighted by the formation of a national unity government in November 2010, while the situation remains fragile. The level of organized conflict in the country has dropped slightly, but remains high, as does the potential for terrorist attacks.
Afghanistan, ranked fourth from the bottom, experienced yet another year of intense armed conflict, and Russia, just three spots ahead, experienced a drop in its score due to increased potential for terrorist attacks and continuing violence in the North Caucasus.
The homicide rate and the level of violent crime remained high, while the Russian population continues to perceive high levels of criminality in society.
High Peace Rating Does Not Reflect Nature Of Some Regimes
While Georgia, Russia's southern neighbor, still ranks toward the bottom of the list (137th), it is notable in this year’s index as the country whose score improved the most compared to last year.
"Georgia is a very good example of a country that was quite clearly in a very difficult position roughly two years ago [after the 2008 war with Russia], and yet it has shown that it can rebound," says McConaghy.
"It moved up [12 places] in the Global Peace Index, which is not an easy thing to do. The areas that it specifically improved were [a] greater level of political stability, lower likelihood of violent demonstrations, less deaths internally within the country, and, of course, less deaths resulting from external conflict."
Ironically, thousands of antigovernment protesters were taking to the streets in Tbilisi today, just as the Global Peace Index was being unveiled.
Ukraine witnessed the second largest improvement in Eastern Europe, with the index crediting increased political stability under President Viktor Yanukovych and improved relations with neighboring Russia.
But in defining peace as "a lack of violence," the index does not necessarily reflect the nature of characteristics such as political stability.
That goes for countries like Kazakhstan, which is ranked most peaceful in Central Asia despite its long-standing government's authoritarian nature, as well as for Ukraine, where corruption and repression are on the rise.
Low Corruption A Major Peace Factor
For Ukraine, McConaghy says, rising corruption will likely make itself felt on the index in the future. "What I would probably say is [Ukraine's improvement on the index] is not going to stand the test of time," he says. "That is, it is so strong -- the correlation between high or low levels of corruption [and peace]...if that [corruption] were to continue, Ukraine is going to fall eventually."
Low corruption is among a host of factors that the Institute for Economics and Peace has found to be strongly correlated with greater peace, while not actual factors in determining the ranking. Those factors also include political democracy, press freedom, and extended education.
The most peaceful country in this year's ranking is Iceland, pushing New Zealand into second place. And while the top 10 features some expected countries, including Japan and Denmark, the group has become more geographically diverse than in previous years. Slovenia comes in at number 10, while the Czech Republic is ranked fifth-most peaceful in the world.
Countries included in this year's index for the first time include Kyrgyzstan, which is ranked 114th, due largely to the overthrow of the Bakiev government in April 2010 and the ensuing ethnic violence. Its Central Asian neighbors, as in previous years, all rank in the bottom half of the list.
The United States ranks 82 out the 153 countries included.