The good, the bad and the ugly of rising peace inequality – a dangerous injustice to be tackled

25 July 2017 Murray Ackman The good, the bad and the ugly of rising peace inequality – a dangerous injustice to be tackled

We live in very unequal times. While some have argued that we are living in historically peaceful times, the world decreased in peacefulness over the last decade. However, the message of how the world has been faring in peace is mixed. Over the last decade there has been the good: eighty countries improved in their peacefulness. There is the bad: terrorism, internal conflicts and population displacement. And there is the ugly: the deterioration in peace has largely been confined to a handful of countries, but conflict and violence has been spreading.

There is also growing inequality in peace: the difference between the least peaceful and most peaceful countries has been increasing. In the last decade, the ten most peaceful countries improved by an average of four per cent whereas the ten least peaceful countries deteriorated by 31 per cent. According to the Global Peace Index (GPI), produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, only a handful of countries account for the global decline in peace. If the ten least peaceful countries in 2017 are removed, the levels of peace would have stayed the same in the last decade.

The GPI uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources to rank 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. It covers 99.7 per cent of the world’s population. The index assesses global peace under three broad themes: the level of safety and security in society; the extent of domestic and international conflict; and the degree of militarisation.

The good

Many countries have reached the highest levels of peace in their history. Last year, the most peaceful countries were Iceland, New Zealand and Portugal. Portugal has been one of the biggest improvers in peace, going up 13 ranks in five years with improvements in more than half of the indicators in the GPI.

In the last decade there have been significant improvements in reducing violent deaths, with two thirds of countries experiencing a fall in their homicide rate. There was also a fall in militarisation as 72 per of countries reduced the size of their armed forces.

The level of political terror also dropped. Sixty-eight countries improved in this measure which looks at extra-judicial killings, torture, and imprisonment without trial. Notably, the majority of the 46 countries that deteriorated for political terror were in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The bad

The deterioration in peace over the last decade has largely been driven by record levels of terrorism, population displacement and conflicts in the Middle East. The least peaceful countries last year (Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen) were all involved in internal conflicts which have international involvement. In Afghanistan alone there have been over 60,000 battle-related deaths and over 20,000 deaths from terrorism in the last five years.

Corresponding with the increase in internal conflicts, the impact of terrorism continues to spread. Over 90 per cent of all terrorist deaths occurred in countries already engaged in some form of conflict - whether internal or international. More countries are dealing with historically high levels of terrorism. Twenty three countries had record number of deaths from terrorism in 2015, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan and Niger.

Largely due to this increase in violence, over 65 million people are now refugees or internally displaced, nearly double the number a decade ago.

The ugly

In an increasingly connected world, rising peace inequality has significant risks. Conflict, terrorism and organised crime thrive in areas where state control is weak and can easily spread across porous borders. For example, Boko Haram has spread from Nigeria to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The spread of violence also can extend beyond neighbouring countries. There were ISIL affiliates active in 13 countries in 2014. By 2015 that had grown to at least 28 countries which had groups that had pledged allegiance to ISIL. Similarly, the refugee crisis in Europe sparked in part by people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq reflects the impact of unequal levels of peace around the world.

Unfortunately, the truly ‘ugly’ part of peace inequality is that a focus on preventing conflicts before they arise through peacebuilding does not appear to be a priority for the international community. Peacebuilding aid accounts for just 16 per cent of total aid for conflict-affected countries. Half of peacebuilding aid has gone to Afghanistan and Iraq, with the remaining 29 countries receiving insufficient aid for effective policymaking.

As the costs of conflict are so high, there is a clear case for increasing expenditure in peacebuilding. In 2015, the money spent on peacekeeping and peacebuilding was equivalent to just two per cent of the cost of conflict.

The way forward

The April 2016 resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly introduced the concept of “Sustaining Peace.” This signifies a new focus by the UN to prevent conflicts by identifying what fosters peace.

IEP has developed measures of Positive Peace to try and build the elements that make countries peaceful and resilient. Through this, IEP has empirically established the relationship between changes in Positive Peace and changes in GPI. For example, the United States had the fourth largest fall in Positive Peace between 2005 and 2015. Unsurprisingly, the United States declined 11 places in the 2017 GPI to 114 out of 163 countries. This highlights that sustaining peace is relevant for all countries.

The peace inequality gap can only be breached by emphasising the drivers of peacefulness rather than focusing on the triggers of conflict. For the next decade to be dominated by the good, a greater focus is needed on developing the attitudes, institutions and structures that lead to just and peaceful societies. This will prevent crises as well as build resilience to reduce the spread of violence.

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Photo: Simon Berry/Flickr