It might not be believed — news always seems to be bad — but the world became a more peaceful place last year. In 2011, world peace improved for the first time in three years. Apparently, incidents of terrorism fell and the global economic downturn, which might have increased violence, actually decreased violence by reducing the amount which countries spent on military budgets.
A survey by the Global Peace Index examined 158 Third World, developing and developed nations and based its findings on 23 separate indicators that, combined, measure the relative level of internal and external conflict in a country. Overall, global military spending began to fall - in part a consequence of the global financial crisis — while relations between countries broadly improved, with leaders increasingly turning to diplomacy, not violence.
According to the report, the most peaceful nations in the world are primarily in Europe, led by several Scandinavian countries. New Zealand, Japan and Canada are also among the most peaceful. Somalia, the failed state, remained the world’s least peaceful place, followed by Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq. Obviously, conflicts can be extremely unpredictable and uncontrollable even if you are very powerful.
From the study, there are lessons to be learnt. Greece tumbled down the list, dropping 40 or so places over four years in the face of mounting civil unrest and crime as it struggles with tough austerity measures and worries over a possible exit from the euro single currency. But Iceland, probably the country most affected by the financial crisis after its economy and currency imploded in 2008, remained at the top of the list as the world’s most peaceful country. It appears that financial problems affect different people in different ways.
Another lesson is that violence is not always the answer to a lack of money. African countries were among the surveys’ fastest risers. Zimbabwe was the largest African riser, seen as stabilizing after years of political infighting. Madagascar was also seen as improving sharply after a coup last year.
In Latin America, relations between Venezuela and Colombia were the most striking example of improvement.
In Asia, overall defense spending appeared roughly flat and conflict was slightly down.
These are all continental success stories, in marked contrast to the tumultuous Middle East. For the first time, sub-Saharan Africa was no longer the world’s least peaceful region, losing that dubious distinction to the Middle East and North Africa in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring.
The sharpest deterioration in peace, the report showed, took place in Syria, but several other countries in the region also fell down the list. They have been unable to maintain stability and safety within their own borders and as such cannot be considered peaceful.
The report showed that violence linked to the Arab Spring had this year made the world a less peaceful place. It should be embarrassing to Arabs that every region in the world showed at least some form of improvement except for the Middle East. The tide must be stemmed and reversed. People must go forward, not backward.