Extreme World ; Most Peaceful Countries

Peace equals prosperity

In 2005, after traveling through Africa looking for business opportunities, Australian entrepreneur Steve Killelea became discouraged. It had become apparent to him that, while there were plenty of ways to measure how violent a country was, there were no such measures of how peaceful a country was. So he decided to create the Global Peace Index. Today, the GPI measures 144 nations based on 23 indicators of the existence or absence of peace both within and outside a country’s borders.

 The indicators use quantitative and qualitative data from the World Bank, various U.N. offices and Peace Institutes, and the Economist Intelligence Unit and are divided into three categories: five measures of ongoing domestic and international conflict, 10 measures of safety and security in society, and eight measures of militarization. Why is this important? Killelea argues that there is a strong correlation between prosperity and peace. The most peaceful country for 2009? New Zealand. The least? Iraq, not surprisingly. Where does the U.S. fit in? Thanks to such factors as its high incarceration and homicide rates, as well as its overseas military operations, it ranks a relatively bellicose 83rd.

No. 1 New Zealand

GDP per capita: $28,980*
Life Expectancy: 79.9**
Mean Years of Schooling: 19.5***
Unemployment: 4.1%****

After ranking toward the top in previous surveys by the Global Peace Index, New Zealand earns the title of the most peaceful country in 2009. The small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean is home to only 4 million people, about 80% of whom live in cities. Referring to improved relations between indigenous Maori peoples and European settlers, GPI founder Steve Killelea says New Zealand provides an example of an ability "to bridge an ethnic divide and have a peaceful nation."

*Nominal gross domestic product (US$) per capita. Source: EIU; Year: 2008
**Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators; Year: 2006
*** School life expectancy (years), primary to tertiary. Source: UNESCO; Year: 2005 and earlier years depending on availability
****Source: EIU; Year: 2008

No. 2 (Tie) Denmark

GDP per capita: $62,140
Life Expectancy: 78.1
Mean Years of Schooling: 16.7
Unemployment: 1.8%

Denmark is the second-most peaceful nation for the second year in a row, sharing its spot with neighboring Norway. Like all Scandinavian countries, Denmark enjoys good foreign relations and has low levels of crime, weapons possession, and organized conflict within and outside its borders. A member of NATO, Denmark had 500 troops in Iraq from June 2003 until their withdrawal in August 2007.

No. 2 (Tie) Norway

GDP per capita: $93,759
Life Expectancy: 80.3
Mean Years of Schooling: 17.5
Unemployment: 2.6%

Sharing second place with Denmark, Norway’s economy is rich with natural resources; oil and gas reserves discovered in the 1960s make it the third-largest gas exporter and seventh-largest oil exporter, according to the The World Factbook published by the CIA. The Norwegian government provides its citizens with a vast safety net of social welfare programs such as universal health care, and received maximum 10 scores for a highly clean electoral process, political participation, and civil liberties. The country’s participation in external conflict continues to be limited to peacekeeping, and it has been reducing its military resources since 2002.

No. 4 Iceland

GDP per capita: $52,390
Life Expectancy: 81.2
Mean Years of Schooling: 18.2
Unemployment: 1.6%

Badly hurt by the global economic downturn in the fall of 2008, Iceland drops three places from its No. 1 spot last year. The investment banking industry, which fueled a ninefold rise in the country's stock market from 2003 to 2007 (U.S. market doubled in the same period), has since collapsed. Although violent demonstrations resulted in some injuries, but no deaths, and the coalition government collapsed in January 2009, GPI’s Killelea says Iceland’s ability to remain at the top of the list shows that it is "a good example of how peaceful nations are more resilient and able to rebound than countries that are more fragile and likely to crack under stress."

No. 5 Austria

GDP per capita: $49,720
Life Expectancy: 79.8
Mean Years of Schooling: 15.3
Unemployment: 3.8%

Neutral since 1955, this small mountainous country rose five places this year to claim the top spot for a non-Scandinavian European country. While Austria’s military expenditure as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in the world, it has sent troops on peacekeeping missions in Serbia and Afghanistan. Minimal crime and civil unrest complement good relations with neighboring countries. Austria’s score for its respect for human rights, while still good, is the worst of any country in the top 10. In July 2008, its grand coalition government folded after just 18 months in office.

No. 6 Sweden

GDP per capita: $51,943
Life Expectancy: 80.8
Mean Years of Schooling: 15.8
Unemployment: 6.2%

Sweden boasts one of the lowest levels of incarceration in the world and received perfect scores for a highly clean electoral process, functioning of government, political participation, and civil liberties. Yet its rank was hurt by its role as a heavy supplier of major conventional weapons—it’s one of the highest such suppliers in the world per capita. This European Union-member nation has not engaged in any war in almost two centuries, according to the CIA's World Factbook, but in recent years has committed peacekeeping troops to U.N. efforts in Afghanistan, Chad, the Balkans, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

No. 7 Japan

GDP per capita: 38,580
Life Expectancy: 82.3
Mean Years of Schooling: 15
Unemployment: 4%

With the third-largest economy after the U.S. and China, Japan is down two places from last year in the Global Peace Index. The California-sized cluster of islands in the North Pacific Ocean is home to about 127 million people, who enjoy some of the world’s lowest crime and homicide rates and are banned from possessing firearms. Japan is a major exporter of fish but has no natural energy resources to speak of, making it the world's largest importer of coal and liquefied natural gas and the second-largest importer of oil, according to the World Factbook.

No. 8 Canada

GDP per capita: $45,220
Life Expectancy: 80.4
Mean Years of Schooling: 16.9
Unemployment: 6.2%

Canada’s internal safety and security levels are similar to the Scandinavian countries, and it jumped three spots to No. 8 this year thanks to an improvement in its respect for human rights. Conservative political leaders won approval from Parliament in 2008 to continue the country's mission in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. As of April 2009, 116 troops of Canada's more than 2,500-member force have been killed in Afghanistan.

No. 9 (Tie) Finland

GDP per capita: $51,703
Life Expectancy: 79.2
Mean Years of Schooling: 17.2
Unemployment: 6.4%

Finland enjoys strong political stability and low levels of violent crime, although its homicide rate is slightly higher than its Scandinavian neighbors'. The Finnish government has adopted a policy of strategic nonalignment since the end of the Cold War and has remained neutral to the conflict in Iraq. Finland is not a member of NATO but has sent troops to help peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan, with 80 currently on duty there.

No. 9 Slovenia

GDP per capita: $27,270
Life Expectancy: 77.7
Mean Years of Schooling: 16.7
Unemployment: 6.7%

Slovenia is the first Baltic state on the list, thanks to its low levels of violent crime, homicides, and incarcerations. Relations with neighboring states are good, with the exception of an ongoing disagreement with Croatia over maritime borders. Slovenia has 70 soldiers in Afghanistan and 350 in Kosovo as part of NATO and U.N. peacekeeping missions.

No. 11 Czech Republic

GDP per capita: $21,240
Life Expectancy: 77.7
Mean Years of Schooling: 15
Unemployment: 5.4%

Deemed "one of the most stable and prosperous of the post-Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe" by the CIA's World Factbook, the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004 and is slated to adopt the euro in 2012. It has low levels of organized crime and perceptions of criminality in society. The country has good relations with neighboring states, with the exception of a dispute over a nuclear plant near the Austrian border. Nearly 1 million Austrians signed a petition in January 2008 opposing the plant.

No. 12 Ireland

GDP per capita: $66,460
Life Expectancy: 79.4
Mean Years of Schooling: 17.6
Unemployment: 6.1%

Ireland dropped seven places this year to No. 12. While low, levels in the country of organized crime, perceptions of criminality in society, and ease of access to weapons of minor destruction are higher than countries that come before it on the list. Homicide and incarceration rates remain low and the country received the maximum score for civil liberties. Ireland has been hit hard by the global economic downturn, in part because property prices that rose faster there from 1996 to 2006 than in any other developed world economy, according to the World Factbook.

No. 13 Luxembourg

GDP per capita: $116,810
Life Expectancy: 79.2
Mean Years of Schooling: 13.5
Unemployment: 4.5%

Sandwiched between France, Germany, and Belgium, this tiny country of less than 500,000 people enjoys one of the highest levels of GDP per capita in the world, with a violent crime rate just slightly higher than its low homicide rate. Despite the global downturn, Luxembourg’s economy, fueled by a financial sector dominated by foreign activity and diversified industrial production, fared better than its European neighbors and is on track toward growth in 2009. Luxembourg was one of the six founding member countries in 1957 of the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union.

No. 14 Portugal

GDP per capita: $22,980
Life Expectancy: 78.4
Mean Years of Schooling: 15.2
Unemployment: 7.6%

This small country that hugs the western side of Spain slid seven spots from last year to land in 14th place. Levels of organized conflict, violent crime, and homicide remain low, while the likelihood of violent demonstrations is higher than that of countries coming before it on the list. Portugal’s economic growth has slowed in the 2000s compared with the 1990s, and the government struggles with a budget deficit. The country’s "poor educational system, in particular, has been an obstacle to greater productivity and growth," according to the CIA's World Factbook.

No. 15 Belgium

GDP per capita: $47,670
Life Expectancy: 79.5
Mean Years of Schooling: 16
Unemployment: 7.1%

Homicide and incarceration rates, along with military expenditures as a percentage of GDP, have remained low in Belgium even as political instability led to the government’s collapse in July 2008. The capital city of Brussels is home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, but the country boasts few natural resources. This makes its economy "unusually dependent" on world markets because of its reliance on imports of raw materials and exports of manufacturing, according to the World Factbook. Long-standing linguistic and cultural differences remain between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia, causing persistent speculation that the country will split in two.

No. 16 (Tie) Germany

GDP per capita: $44,290
Life Expectancy: 79.1
Mean Years of Schooling: 15.9
Unemployment: 7.8%

With more than 82 million people, Germany is the world’s fifth-largest economy, Europe’s largest, and is the Continent’s second-most populous country after Russia. Sharing its rank with Qatar, Germany receives positive marks for good relations with neighboring countries, political stability, and respect for human rights. But the country’s economy is heavily dependant on exports—it’s the largest exporter in the world—and its standing in the GPI is hurt by its role as a large supplier of major conventional weapons. The eastern part of the country, where unemployment can reach 30%, still lags in performance. It has received billions of dollars in aid from its western counterpart.

No. 16 (Tie) Qatar

GDP per capita: $67,350
Life Expectancy: 75.5
Mean Years of Schooling: 13.3
Unemployment: 0.4%

The small emirate of Qatar in the Persian Gulf is the Middle East’s highest-ranking country on the list. Like its neighbor to the south, Saudi Arabia, Qatar is rich with natural oil and gas reserves. These account for more than 50% of GDP, roughly 85% of export earnings, and 70% of government revenues, according to the World Factbook. Crime and incarceration rates are low, while the country has increasingly been accused of failing to protect against or prosecute the trafficking of migrant workers. Still, and despite Qatar's proximity to some of the least peaceful countries on the list, including Iraq and Afghanistan, GPI founder Steve Killelea calls the country's placement in the top 20 as evidence "that peaceful nations can exist in any part of the world."

No. 18 Switzerland

GDP per capita: $63,810
Life Expectancy: 81.5
Mean Years of Schooling: 14.8
Unemployment: 2.6%

Switzerland has a prosperous economy and stable government that has remained neutral since before World War I. Switzerland’s crime rate is low, but, as GPI’s Killelea explains, its ranking is hurt by a relatively high homicide rate due to the mandatory conscription of its citizens into the army and the weapons they are allowed to take home. It is also a significant supplier of major conventional weapons. Switzerland’s largest banks, long a haven for foreign investors because of their high levels of secrecy, were significantly hit by the global economic crisis. The largest received government assistance in late 2008.

No. 19 Australia

GDP per capita: $48,070
Life Expectancy: 81
Mean Years of Schooling: 20.5
Unemployment: 4.3%

Australia is the world’s sixth-largest country geographically, roughly the size of the U.S.'s Lower 48. While internal organized conflict is low and there is a high level of respect for human rights, Australia’s position is weighed down by the fact that since 2003 it has sent hundreds of troops to the U.S.-led invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the CIA's World Factbook, "Emphasis on reforms, low inflation, a housing market boom, and growing ties with China have been key factors over the course of the economy's 17 solid years of expansion…The economy remains relatively healthy [in 2009] despite falling export commodity prices." It is the world's largest net exporter of coal, which accounts for 29% of global exports.

No. 20 Chile

GDP per capita: $10,110
Life Expectancy: 78.3
Mean Years of Schooling: 14
Unemployment: 7.8%

Chile receives good marks for its low levels of external and internal organized conflict and political instability, yet its ranking is hindered by higher levels of perceptions of criminality in society, likelihood of violent demonstrations, and ease of access to weapons of minor destruction. Far from its days of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet that ended in 1990, Chile has since grown into a stable and politically representative democracy. Foreign trade characterizes the Chilean economy, which claims more bilateral or regional trade agreements than any other country, with exports accounting for 40% of GDP, according to the World Factbook.

No. 21 Oman

GDP per capita: $18,460
Life Expectancy: 75.5
Mean Years of Schooling: 11.6
Unemployment: 15%

The second Mideast country on the list, Oman has maintained close ties with the U.K. since the 18th century, and its strategic position in the Indian Ocean has long fueled a prosperous trade industry, especially that of crude oil. Dwindling oil resources and the drop in oil prices, combined with a pullback of investment and development because of the global economic crisis, threaten to contribute to a deficit in 2009. Rates of organized and violent crime, homicide, and incarceration are low, while Oman's political instability, military expenditures as percentage of GDP, and ease of access to weapons of minor destruction are high. Like Qatar, Oman has increasingly been accused of failing to protect against or prosecute the trafficking of migrant workers.

No. 22 Netherlands

GDP per capita: $53,280
Life Expectancy: 79.7
Mean Years of Schooling: 16.5
Unemployment: 4%

Not only does the Netherlands have a highly transparent democracy and a prosperous economy heavily reliant on foreign trade, but the country has earned a global reputation for its liberal social policies, especially toward drugs, sex, and immigration. This NATO-founding member country is a large exporter of agricultural products, but receives the worst possible score as a heavy supplier of major conventional weapons. It supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was among the first NATO member countries to send troops to Afghanistan.

No. 23 Singapore

GDP per capita: $37,597
Life Expectancy: 79.9
Mean Years of Schooling: 11
Unemployment: 2.3%

Singapore’s strategic location along Southeast Asian trade routes has made it one of the wealthiest nations in the world, with GDP per-capita levels comparable to the most advanced nations in Western Europe. Home to just under 5 million people, the perception of criminality in society is higher than actual violent crime and homicide rates. While its military expenditures as a percentage of GDP is relatively low, the tiny island nation next to Indonesia receives a proportionally large amount of major conventional weapons.

No. 24 Slovakia

GDP per capita: $17,455
Life Expectancy: 74.2
Mean Years of Schooling: 14.9
Unemployment: 7.7%

This landlocked, mountainous country in the middle of Eastern Europe joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 and adopted the euro in the beginning of 2009. According to the CIA's World Factbook: "Foreign investment in the automotive and electronic sectors has been strong. Slovakia's economic growth exceeded expectations in 2001-08 despite the general European slowdown." The former Communist country has a low rate of internal organized conflict but has sent hundreds of troops to efforts in Afghanistan.