The Institute for Economics and Peace reveals the most peaceful countries in the world. In the past 15 years, global peacefulness has fallen by about 2% while the number of refugees displaced by conflicts has skyrocketed.
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 virtuous nations also enjoy greater income growth, 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: in 2020 the total cost amounted to $14.9 trillion in purchasing-power parity (PPP) terms, or to 11.6% of the total global gross domestic product. If the sheer scale of these numbers makes them a little hard to grasp, we are talking about $1,942 for each person on the planet.
These are the most significant takeaways from the 2021 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: with 87 countries improving and 73 recording deteriorations, the level of global peacefulness decreased in 2020 by 0.07%. It might not seem like much—indeed, the change in score is the second smallest in the history of the index. Yet, it is worth noting that it is the ninth time in the past 13 years that the average has declined, for an overall reduction of 2% since the report was first published in 2008. In the meantime, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons has rocketed to 1% of the global population, the highest level in modern history.
It should come as no surprise that many longstanding tensions and conflicts across the globe remain unresolved. Last year, Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan incurred the largest economic cost of violence, equivalent to 81.7%, 42.1% and 40.3% of their GDP, respectively. Overall, in the 10 countries most economically affected by violence the average was equivalent to 35.7% of GDP; by contrast, in the 10 most peaceful countries the proportion was only 4.2%. Europe remains the most tranquil region with eight nations ranking in the top 10 and 15 nations in the top 20. Some improvement in the level of peacefulness was recorded in the Russia and Eurasia region and in the Middle East and North Africa, but also in Latin America and the Caribbean after several years on the decline. What about the United States? In 2020, the US experienced a significant fall across all three main domains of the Peace Index, with its overall score deteriorating by 3% and reaching the lowest level since 2008. Growing civil unrest, the report says, led to worsened perceptions of criminality and political instability, as well as more violent demonstrations.
Altogether, the 2021 Global Peace Index reveals a world in which some of the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have somewhat begun to abate, only to be replaced with a new wave of uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. As national economies try to rebound from the global recession, many will continue to experience headwinds for the foreseeable future. A volatile economic environment, along with the renewed focus on growing inequality in wealth, poor labor conditions and access to health care, will keep elevated the likelihood of political and social turmoil, the report says. “The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on peacefulness is still unfolding. While some forms of violence declined in the short term, growing unease with lockdowns and rising economic uncertainty resulted in civil unrest increasing in 2020. Over 5,000 pandemic-related violent events were recorded between January 2020 and April 2021”, the researchers at the Institute for Economics and Peace write. Not only that, some nations are finding it more difficult to repay existing debt, leading to a further rise in poverty (yet, global military expenditure rose by 3.7% in 2020). As nations make their way out of the pandemic, fixing the damage left in its wake will require more than a vaccine.
#10 | CANADA
In 2020, Canada recorded a slight increase in peacefulness. However, after holding the sixth spot in the ranking for three consecutive years, it dropped three positions as a result of other top-performing countries having larger percentage improvements. In comparing Canada with its American neighbor, the Peace Report notes that the pandemic had indeed a significant impact on both nations—both experienced severe economic contractions, as well as anti-lockdown protests and an escalation in interpersonal violence. Yet, everything is a matter of scale. The disparity in peacefulness between the two countries—the report suggests highlighting the level of civil unrest and political polarisation in the US—could not be greater. After all, the United States ranks 122nd in the index while Canada is a fixture of the top 10, and one of only two non-European nations in this year’s report.
#9 | CZECH REPUBLIC
Down one spot from last year, over the last decade the Czech Republic has shown 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 10.7 million can boast one of lowest unemployment rates in the European Union at 3.4%. Granted, before the pandemic this figure stood at about 2% (or below what economists consider a "natural" level), but there are already signs that the country is on its way to reverting to pre-Covid levels.
#8 | IRELAND
The Republic of Ireland is one of the wealthiest, most developed and happiest nations in the world. It is also quite peaceful, and in this edition of the Global Peace Report it managed to gain four spots from last year and reach its highest position ever in the ranking.
Make no mistake: Ireland has never been too far from the top 10. In fact, due to its independent status and neutral army, it is routinely ranked as one of safest countries in the world. It does not mean that during the pandemic it has not experienced its share of political and social turmoil. Along with several other countries, the report says, Ireland too saw violent anti-lockdown demonstrations in which protesters threw objects at police and broke storefront windows. Yet, such episodes don’t change the fundamental nature of Ireland as a peaceful nation. On page 91 of its study, the Institute for Economics and Peace reveals a striking piece of data: when it comes to the economic cost of violence, Ireland performs better than almost all countries in the world. Ranking 161st out of 163 nations, the toll is only 3% of the GDP compared to the 11.6% global average.
#7 | SWITZERLAND
Often featured among the top 10 most peaceful nations for the better part of the past decade, Switzerland gains three positions from last year.
While it is indeed a place with an exceptionally high degree of safety and security in society and a low level of domestic or international conflict, its surprisingly elevated level of militarization (the total active army personnel is approximately 140,000 out of a population of about 8.5 million) keeps this nation from scoring nearer the very top. Switzerland—along with other well-ranked countries such as Canada, Singapore, Norway and the Netherlands—also features amongst the top weapons exporters per capita in the world.
However, by most other measures, Switzerland remains a stable and prosper country where linguistic and religious diversity is embraced. In third place in the United Nation’s Happiness Report, it also ranks above the average among OECD nations when it comes to subjective well-being, income, health and education and environmental quality. Not everything, in all fairness, runs like clockwork: Switzerland lags behind a number of other developed countries in workplace equality, with women earning approximately one-fifth less than men, worse than in 2000.
#6 | AUSTRIA
Since the end of the Cold War, this small landlocked country of just nearly 9 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, social tensions have been growing in recent years fueled by anti-migrant campaigns of the popular right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), which until May 2019 was also in a coalition government with the center-right People's Party (ÖVP) of chancellor Sebastian Kurz. In 2020, the Peace report notes, Austria had the second largest deterioration in peacefulness in Europe as a result of a worsening in the terrorism impact indicator. When last November an ISIS sympathizer shot and killed 4 people and injured 23 others, the government responded by unveiling broad anti-terror measures that included the ability to keep convicted individuals behind bars for life and facilitate electronic surveillance for those who are released.
#5 | SLOVENIA
A legend says that when God distributed the land to all the nations, Slovenians were overlooked because there were so few of them (they still barely reach 2 million). To apologize, he gave them a little piece of paradise he saved for himself. Slovenia’s territory, half of which is covered by forests, boasts one of the greatest levels of biodiversity on the continent: with only one hour drive from the capital Ljubljana, you can either swim in the Adriatic sea or climb the Julian Alps.
It’s easy to imagine Slovenia as a peaceful country. Jumping five positions in the ranking in just one year, it is the top-performing nation in emerging Europe. Along with the Czech Republic, Croatia and Hungary too make it into the top 20, and Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Estonia into the top 30. Overall, 24 of 36 countries in Europe improved and no country ranked outside the top half of the index except for Turkey, at number 149.
#4 | PORTUGAL
Portugal marches to the beat of its own drum when it comes to peace and safety. Over the past few years, this nation of about 10 million people has emerged as one of the biggest climbers of the Global Peace Index, moving from the 18th position it held in 2014 to the top 5 two years later, where it’s been staying ever since (although it slips two spots from last year).
Ranking above the industrialized nations' average in terms of housing, work-life balance, personal security and environmental quality, Portugal is also considered one of the very top-favorite expat destinations for the overall quality of its 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.
#3 | DENMARK
Denmark held the number two spot of the ranking for five years in a row from 2011 to 2016 and the number five spot from 2017 to 2020. Whether the newly conquered third position is the start of a new trend or not, these relatively minor changes in the ranking only tell us that the kingdom is doing well. A safe country to travel and live in, Denmark is characterized by 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.
Yet, to safeguard all that happiness and those excellent standards of living, this nation of less than 6 million spends a lot. In 2018, to counter the threat of 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. As a result, in the militarization domain of the Peace Index, Denmark barely makes it into the top 10.
#2 | NEW ZEALAND
Holding on to the number two spot in the index since 2017, over the past decade and a half 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 roughly 5 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 it 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 fourteenth year in a row that it retains the number one spot, this year even improving its score by 0.27%. With no standing army, navy or air force and the smallest population of any NATO member state (about 365,000 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.
WORLD'S MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRIES : FULL LIST
|17||Germany (tied with Croatia)|
|42||Mongolia (tied with Indonesia)|
|52||United Arab Emirates|
|59||Moldova (tied with Malawi)|
|72||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|76||Liberia (tied with Kyrgyz Republic)|
|81||Kosovo (tied with Angola)|
|84||Trinidad and Tobago|
|86||Cuba (tied with Bolivia)|
|88||Trinidad and Tobago|
|101||Guyana (tied with China)|
|103||Mozambique (tied with Côte d'Ivoire)|
|107||Papua New Guinea|
|119||Republic of the Congo|
|122||United States of America|
|155||Central African Republic|
|157||Democratic Republic of the Congo|