By Stephen Kaufman
Washington – Would political and economic leaders work harder for peace if they saw that it not only has economic benefits, but it also helps societies recover faster from a crisis?The international nonprofit organization Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which rates global levels of peacefulness, including safety and security, says countries with attitudes, institutions and structures that help sustain peace can better withstand economic shocks and natural disasters.IEP has issued an annual Global Peace Index since 2007, and its latest report, released June 12, shows that the overall global level of peace rose during 2011 — its first positive report.
The past year saw a decrease in political terror and in militarization, which IEP’s U.S. vice president, Michael Shank, ascribed in part to economic austerity caused by economic declines. In his June 12 remarks in Washington, Shank also noted that the world seems to be moving away from conflicts between states and more toward internal conflicts, as exemplified by the violence occurring between citizens and their governments in the Middle East.
Princeton University Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter said June 12 that peace is defined not only by the absence of war, or only the absence of conflict and instability, but rather by the absence of violence and the freedom from being afraid of violence, such as dangers from drug cartels, insurgents, gangs and domestic abuse.
Having a more peaceful society is what makes life better, rather than “just avoiding what makes life unlivable,” she said.
According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country for the second year in a row, even though the country suffered a severe financial crisis in 2008, which saw the collapse of its three largest banks put it in real danger of declaring national bankruptcy.
Iceland’s rating “shows that it has the resilience to withstand those kinds of shocks to the system,” Shank said.
Likewise Japan, which suffered a major earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, is the world’s fifth-most-peaceful country, according to the Index.
Both countries rated high in IEP’s eight Positive Peace Index factors, which take into account peace-sustaining ingredients, including good governance, high education, tolerance for others and free expression.
With a high Positive Peace Index, “you are much more resilient to shocks, be they environmental or economic,” he said. If countries use the eight Positive Peace factors as a tool and work to improve them, their people will see not only more prosperity, but also more happiness and less fear, he said.
IEP calculates the level of peace using 23 indicators, including political terror, internal conflicts, crime, incarceration rates, relations with neighbors, military expenditures and weapons exports.
The organization is trying to understand the key drivers and metrics of peace and show how peace is economically beneficial, Shank said. It draws much of its data from academic institutions, think tanks, international organizations and nonprofit institutions.
“We try to provide a full accounting of the costs of violence, complementing that with a ‘road map’ of how a country can improve its peace and the economic benefits from those improvements,” he said.
According to IEP, if the world had been completely peaceful in 2011, it would have had a positive economic impact of $9 trillion, which is equal to the size of the German and Japanese economies combined. The figure takes into account medical, justice and law enforcement costs, as well as the long-term reduction in economic productivity as the result of loss, injury or incarceration of potential workers.
Even a more realistic 25 percent reduction in global violence could yield at least $2.25 trillion, which is enough to cover Europe’s current $1 trillion allocation to cover its sovereign debt crisis as well as to achieve annual Millennium Development Goals, according to the IEP report.
Shank and Slaughter noted that the Global Peace Index shows democracies tend to be more peaceful than autocracies or “hybrid regimes,” and that there appears to be a “tipping point” for countries that eliminate sources of violence and strengthen institutions, after which they achieve higher-than-expected gains in their gross domestic products and a decline in corruption.
The tipping point is encouraging, Slaughter said, because rather than having countries continually face difficult and incremental development in their quest for peace and prosperity, “suddenly, relatively small increases lead to much bigger changes.”
Shank agreed, and said the data show that once countries reach the tipping point, “you see a lowering of corruption pretty precipitously.”
The United States does not rate highly on IEP’s list of the world’s most peaceful countries, coming in at 88 out of 158, although the report said its score improved in 2011.
“The U.S.’s fairly low rank largely reflects much higher levels of militarization and involvement in external conflicts,” the report said, adding that several measures of societal safety and security, including its relatively high rate of incarceration, also contributed to its score.
Lawrence Wilkerson, a professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, said the United States has a different approach than other countries to militarization, partly because of its post-World War II past, when, he said, it took on the role of “global policeman” in the face of the threat of Soviet communism.
More information, as well as the full Global Peace Index report, can be found at IEP’s website.