2016 Global Peace Index Records a Historically Less Peaceful and More Unequal World

2016 Global Peace Index Records a Historically Less Peaceful and More Unequal World 

(Original article: Vision of Humanity)

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The 2016 Global Peace Index (GPI) shows the world became less peaceful in the last year, reinforcing the underlying trend of declining peace over the last decade. Results also show a growing global inequality in peace, with the most peaceful countries continuing to improve while the least peaceful are falling into greater violence and conflict.  

The 2016 GPI report provides a comprehensive update on the state of peace. It shows that amidst the global deterioration the world continues to spend enormous resources on creating and containing violence but very little on peace. The key to reversing the decline in peace is through building Positive Peace – a holistic framework of the key attitudes, institutions and structures which build peace in the long term. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16, which focuses on peace, justice and strong institutions is critical to focusing the international community on the goal of attaining a more peaceful world. But measuring it and developing the data to know if countries are improving is a serious challenge that needs greater investment and levels of cooperation. 


The tenth edition of the GPI finds that overall global levels of peace continue to deteriorate while the gap between the most and least peaceful countries continues to widen.

While the the world became less peaceful in 2015, many countries also  improved. In fact, slightly more countries improved, 81 – than deteriorated, 79.  As the size of the deteriorations was larger than the improvements, there was a decline in the global average. This shows the complex picture of global peace and underscores that while there has been an emergence of concerning negative trends, they are not uniform globally and positives can be drawn from the data.  The majority of the global deterioration is due to the developments in the Middle East and Africa (MENA), already the least peaceful region in the world.  So intense is the current concentration of violence and conflict in MENA that, when considered separately, the rest of the world’s average peace levels improved. Three of the five biggest country declines in peace occurred in the region: Yemen, Libya and Bahrain.

The indicators with the largest yearly deterioration were the impact of terrorism and political instability. Deaths from terrorism increased by 80 per cent from last year’s report with only 69 countries not recording a terrorist incident. The intensity of terrorism also increased with the number of countries suffering more than 500 deaths from terrorist acts more than doubling, up from 5 to 11. The rise in political instability was globally distributed with large changes within many countries spread across many regions. Among the countries with the largest deteriorations were Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Poland, Burundi, Kazakhstan and Brazil.

However, there were positives. The indicator with the largest improvement is UN peacekeeping funding. This underscores the increasing commitment of the international community to maintaining adequate funding for peacekeeping operations. The second largest improvement was recorded in the security officers and police rate indicator, with the number of countries that have high levels of police and internal security officers decreasing. These are promising developments that counter the fall in overall global peace. 

The ongoing conflict and societal safety and security domains both deteriorated on average, however militarisation improved from 2015 to 2016.


The last decade has seen a historic decline in world peace. This interrupts the long term improvements in peace since World War II. 

The historic ten-year deterioration in peace has largely been driven by the intensifying conflicts in the MENA region. Terrorism is also at an all-time high, battle deaths from conflict are at a 25 year high, and the number of refugees and displaced people are at a level not seen in sixty years. Notably, the sources for these three dynamics are intertwined and driven by a small number of countries, demonstrating the global repercussions of breakdowns in peacefulness. Over the past decade, the average country score deteriorated by 2.44 per cent with 77 countries improving while 85 countries deteriorated, highlighting the global complexities of peace and its uneven distribution. 

While many of the least peaceful countries have seen an intensification of conflict and violence over the past ten years, many of the most peaceful countries have remained peaceful or improved and are likely the most peaceful in human history. The bottom 20 countries especially have progressively become much less peaceful, creating increased levels of inequality in global peace. The past decade has seen a continuation of longer term trends in peacefulness away from external conflicts between states and towards internal conflicts within states. Although it is too early to state whether the decrease in peacefulness represents a reversal of the ‘long peace’ that started at the end of World War II, there are a number of worrying signs that suggest conflict could escalate.


The terrorism impact indicator had the greatest overall deterioration, with all but two regions recording an increase over the past decade. While still accounting for a small percentage of the total number of violent deaths, terrorism has grown steadily over the past decade. The number of yearly incidents has almost tripled since 2011 and the number of deaths has increased to over 30,000.

The majority of terrorist activity is highly concentrated in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Between them these countries accounted for 78 per cent of deaths from terrorism in 2014. However, there are signs that terrorism is becoming more common across the globe, with almost every region having an increase in its terrorism impactscore from 2008 to 2016.


The total number of conflicts has jumped sharply in recent years, rising from 31 in 2010 to 40 in 2014. This increase in the number of internal conflicts has led to a concurrent rise in battle deaths. In 2014, owing largely to the conflict in Syria but also the increasingly protracted conflict in Yemen, battle deaths hit a 25 year high. This number is likely to increase when 2015 data is released.

Although the majority of deaths in 2014 occurred in Syria, there were a number of other conflicts that resulted in high numbers of battle deaths. In total, 11 conflicts resulted in more than a thousand deaths each in 2014, with conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan resulting in more than 10,000 deaths each. 

However, it is important to place today’s violence in historical context.

While the total number of battle deaths did reach a 25 year high in 2014, the last 25 years have been relatively peaceful compared to the preceding 25. From the period 1990 to 2014, there were more than 50,000 deaths in a year on six occasions. By contrast, from 1965 to 1989 there were more than 50,000 deaths on 24 occasions. 


The number of refugees and internally displaced persons increased dramatically over the decade, doubling from 2007 to 2015, to approximately 60 million people. There are nine countries with more than 10 per cent of their population classified as refugees or displaced persons with Somalia and South Sudan having more than 20 per cent of their population displaced and Syria with over 60 per cent displaced.


The trends over the past decade are not uniformly negative. While there has been an increased international dimension to the MENA conflicts, there has also been a positive renewed effort by the international community to provide timely funding and support to peacekeeping operations. The stand-out improvement over the period is commitment to  UN peacekeeping funding which improved by 12 per cent. 

The increasing number of deployed peacekeepers and the international community’s improvement in meeting UN peacekeeping funding dues reached record highs in early 2016. This reflects an international community increasing its commitment to peacekeeping and global peace and security. 

The other indicator that saw significant improvement was external conflicts fought, which records countries’ involvement in illegal wars with other countries.  While that positive trend has been offset by an increase in internal conflicts fought, there were also improvements in other indicators of militarisation –  the armed service personnel rate and levels of military expenditure both improved by five per cent. 


The world continues to spend enormous amounts on creating and containing violence and little on building peace. The economic impact of violence on the global economy in  2015 was $13.6 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. This figure represents 13.3 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product) or $1,876 for every person in the world. To put this in perspective, it is approximately 11 times the size of global foreign direct investment. 

The economic analysis highlights how the economic losses from conflict dwarf the expenditures and investments in peacebuilding and peacekeeping. Peacebuilding and peacekeeping expenditures represent only two per cent of the global economic losses from conflict. This shows that our investments in peace are small and there is an enormous economic payoff to investing in peace and preventing conflict and violence. 


Many of the challenges facing humanity are fundamentally global in nature, such as climate change, decreasing biodiversity, continued economic instability and increasing migration. All of these challenges are interconnected and multifaceted, requiring new ways of conceptualising the relations between countries and the larger systems upon which humanity depends.

The study of what creates peace can be advanced through the concept of Positive Peace, which represents “the attitudes, institutions and structures which sustain peace”. At the heart of the research of the GPI is the goal to understand what creates Positive Peace. But understanding why some countries are peaceful and others are not, is profoundly complex. In order to understand the complexity of peace, this year’s report presents systems thinking as it has developed in biology and ecology and applies it to the study of peace.

The research shows the link between Positive Peace and broader societal resilience. Countries with high Positive Peace are more likely to maintain their stability and adapt and recover from both internal and external shocks. Low Positive Peace environments are more likely to generate internal shocks, with 84 per cent of major political shocks occurring in these countries. Similarly, there are 13 times more lives lost from natural disasters in nations with low Positive Peace as opposed to those with high Positive Peace, a disproportionally high number when compared to the distribution of incidents. 


For the first time, UN member states have formally recognised the critical nature of peacefulness in advancing global development. The 17 SDGs are a new set of goals to target poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change by 2030. Goal 16 relates to the promotion of peace, justice and strong institutions. Without peace, justice and strong institutions it is very hard to achieve the other development goals. The lesson from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that conflict prevents many countries from reaching their development goals on poverty, health and education outcomes. That is why Goal 16 is so important. 

Goal 16 is a critical way to focus the international community’s attention on peace. The targets in Goal 16 are indeed highly relevant to many of the key things that build peace and analysis shows strong overlap with IEP’s Positive Peace factors. Goal 16 is achievable and can be measured. IEP’s audit of the existing data for Goal 16 finds that whilst its targets are only partly measurable, there is sufficient existing data to adequately track progress. However, while indicative progress can be gauged, there are still significant challenges to data availability, disaggregation, reliability, timeliness and objectivity. 

Fifteen of the 21 indicators in Goal 16 can be measured by currently existing sources. The remaining six indicators can be measured by proxy indicators. It will take significant time and investment for National Statistical Offices to develop the necessary statistical capacity to measure Goal 16. In the meantime, third party initiatives will be required to fill the data gaps and act as a source of independent verification for the National Statistical Offices.

IEP recommends that independent third party organisations provide complimentary support to NSOs and offer a useful benchmark against which to compare results. 

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