Author: Tina Aridas, Valentina Pasquali
Project Coordinator: Denise Bedell

The concept of peace is difficult to define – and even more difficult to measure. However, since 2006 the Global Peace Index has defined peace as the "absence of violence" and has sought to determine what cultural attributes and institutions are associated with states of peace. The most recent, 2012 ranking has Iceland as the most peaceful country, followed by Denmark and New Zealand. At the other end of the spectrum, Somalia is considered the least peaceful country, followed by Afghanistan and Sudan.

Global Peace Index 2012 (jump to index)

The Global Peace Index (GPI) defines a nation at "peace" as being one "not involved in violent conflicts with neighboring states or suffering internal wars" – which is sometimes called "negative peace" (i.e., absence of war). This is more measurable and can be used as a starting point to identify the attributes of "positive peace" (structures and institutions that create and maintain peace).

The GPI is a project of the Institute for Economics and Peace, in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit and an international team of academics and peace experts.

The 2012 survey, GPI’s sixth and latest edition, ranks 158 nations on the basis of 23 indicators , combining internal and external factors and ranging from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its relations with neighbors. The index is also weighted on a range of potential determinants of peace—including a country’s levels of democracy and transparency, education and material wellbeing. Scores for each indicator are “banded”, either on a scale of 1-5 (for qualitative indicators) or 1-9 (for quantitative data). Five new countries were included in the 2012 GPI, which now covers 99% of the world: Benin, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho and Mauritius.

The indicators are divided into three groups:

Measures of ongoing domestic and international conflict:

• Number of external and internal conflicts fought
• Estimated number of deaths from organized conflict (external)
• Number of deaths from organized conflict (internal)
• Level of organized conflict (internal)
• Relations with neighboring countries

Measures of societal safety and security:

• Level of perceived criminality in society
• Number of displaced people as a percentage of the population
• Political instability
• Political Terror Scale
• Terrorist acts
• Number of homicides per 100,000 people
• Level of violent crime
• Likelihood of violent demonstrations
• Number of jailed population per 100,000 people
• Number of internal security officers and police per 100,000 people

Measures of militarization:

• Military expenditure as a percentage of GDP
• Number of armed services personnel per 100,000 people
• Volume of transfers (imports) of major conventional weapons per 100,000 people
• Volume of transfers (exports) of major conventional weapons per 100,000 people
• Financial contributions to UN peacekeeping missions
• Aggregate weighted number of heavy weapons per 100,000 people
• Ease of access to small arms and light weapons
• Military capability/sophistication

Data is from the Global Peace Index Report, June 2012.

Global Peace Index 2012

Click on the column heading to sort the table.


The 2012 GPI brought some good news, finding that the world has become more peaceful overall for the first time since 2009. All regions saw improvements in terms of levels of peacefulness expect the Middle East and North Africa.

Watch a presentation of the 2012 GPI results

Iceland keeps the top spot as the most peaceful country for the second year in a row. The top ten is dominated by countries in Europe, which occupy seven of the first ten places. Denmark is second after Iceland, Austria and Ireland are tied in sixth place and are followed by Slovenia (8,) Finland (9) and Switzerland (10.) The three non-European countries at the top of the survey are New Zealand (tied with Denmark in second place,) Canada (4) and Japan (5.) Countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia take up the bottom of the ranking instead. Somalia is last for the second successive year. Pakistan, Israel, Central African Republic, North Korea, Russia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Sudan come just before it.

Ravaged by civil war, Syria took the hardest hit, falling over 30 places to 147th position. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, climbed the most, nearly 30 positions, thanks to the end of its long-running civil war.