Levels of Global Peace Improved Overall in 2017, Despite a Notable Deterioration in the US and European Political Unrest


  • 93 countries recorded improvements in peace in the last year, while 68 deteriorated
  • US political turbulence led to North America deteriorating more than any other region in the world in terms of its peacefulness
  • Several European countries recorded a deterioration in Positive Peace levels coinciding with populist political parties gaining significant electoral traction
  • The global economic impact of violence totalled $14.3 trillion or 12.6% of world GDP, and is far greater in less peaceful countries, costing the equivalent of 37% of GDP in the world's 10 least peaceful countries
  • Iceland topped the list as the world's most peaceful country, followed by New Zealand and Portugal, which replaced Denmark and Austria
  • Syria ranked the least peaceful country for the fifth consecutive year - Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen complete the bottom five
  • Despite overall improvements, the number of countries experiencing record number of deaths from terrorism jumped to an historic high of 23, including Denmark, Sweden, France, and Turkey

The world became a more peaceful place in 2017, according to figures released today in the annual Global Peace Index (GPI). Since last year 93 countries recorded higher levels of peace while 68 deteriorated, resulting in an improvement in world peace. The improvement was mainly driven by lower levels of state-sponsored terror - extra-judicial killings and torture - and the prior withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan by all but four of the 50 countries that provided military assistance.

The 11th edition of the index, published by international think-tank Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), captures the impact of political polarisation in the US stemming from the divisive 2016 Presidential Elections. Despite improvements in Canada, the growing intensity of internal conflict, increases in terrorism and higher perceptions of criminality saw the US fall 11 places to 114th, resulting in North America recording the largest drop of any region.

Steve Killelea, Founder and Executive Chairman of the IEP commented: "While the true extent of the significant political polarity in the US will take years to be fully realised, its disruptive influence is already evident. Underlying conditions of increasing inequality, rising perceptions of corruption, and declining falling press freedoms have all contributed to this deterioration in the US, leading to the overall decline in peace in the North America region."

The report also analyses the rise of populism through the lens of Positive Peace - a measure of the attitudes, structures and institutions that sustain peace. The sharp increase in support for populist parties in the past decade closely corresponds with deteriorations in Positive Peace, with some of the largest falls recorded in Italy, France and Spain.

Steve Killelea continued: "The increasing role of populist parties in mainstream European politics is reflected against a backdrop of deteriorating Positive Peace, specifically in terms of persistent challenges to the free flow of information, levels of corruption and acceptance of the rights of others. Without addressing these underlying drivers of peace it will not be possible to build more peaceful societies."

Despite the global number of deaths from terrorism decreasing by 10% between 2014 and 2015, the number of countries witnessing historically high levels of terrorism hit an all-time high in this year's report at 23, including Denmark, Sweden, France, and Turkey. Europe was significantly impacted, with major attacks in Nice seeing France fall five places in the overall ranking to 51st. The impact of other attacks such as in Brussels and London were also evident, although the more recent attack in Manchester has yet to be reflected in the figures. Overall, the most significant increases in deaths from terrorism were in OECD countries, which have collectively experienced a 900% increase between 2007 and 2016.

The IEP estimates the global impact of violence to have been 12.6% of world GDP in 2016 or $14.3 trillion. While still staggeringly high at $1,953 for every person in the world, this represents a slight (3%) decrease from 2015 and the first reduction since 2011 - the year that corresponds with the start of the Syrian war. On average, violent conflict accounts for 37% of GDP in the ten least peaceful countries, compared to only 3% for the ten most peaceful. Syria remains the least peaceful country for the fifth year running, having fallen 64 places since the index began - the largest decline of the past decade.

Iceland maintained its position as the world's most peaceful country, a title it has held onto since 2008, while New Zealand and Portugal replace Denmark and Austria in second and third position. Portugal's notable climb to third in the overall rankings was driven by a steady recovery from its fiscal crisis, resulting in overall greater internal stability for the country that was ranked 16th less than five years ago.

Steve Killelea concluded "Although this year's uptick is reassuring, the world is still mired with conflict in the Middle East, political turmoil in the US, refugee flows and terrorism in Europe. When combined with the increasing level of peace inequality, whereby the least peaceful countries are moving further apart from the most peaceful, the resulting scenario is one in which further improvements in peace are not guaranteed."


Six of the nine regions became more peaceful with the greatest improvements recorded in South America. Europe held onto its position as the most peaceful region, while the MENA region remains the most violent.

  1. Countries in Europe make up eight out of the top ten ranks, making it the world's most peaceful region, despite record levels of terrorism in a number of countries. Progress has been driven in part by a steady economic recovery which has bolstered scores for indicators such as likelihood of violent demonstrations. Poland witnessed the greatest deterioration as public protests resulting from political tensions escalated. More broadly, southeast Europe experienced widespread decline as an increasingly prominent nationalist rhetoric led to a deterioration in relations with neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. In the UK, the political uncertainty generated by the Brexit vote had little impact following the appointment of the new prime minister, which acted as a stabilising counterbalance.
  2. The overall GPI score for North America fell in 2016 but its place as the second most peaceful region remained. The US experienced a significant decline, which contrasts with Canada's improvement bringing it to 8th position in the GPI. The level of external conflict and weapons export indicators played a significant part in Canada's improvement, despite rises in incarceration rates and terrorism impact.
  3. Most countries in the Asia-Pacific region experienced improvements in their overall scores, with New Zealand, Japan and Australia amongst the most peaceful globally and the Philippines and North Korea remaining among the least peaceful. The subsidence of political volatility in Cambodia last year meant it made more progress than any other country in the region.
  4. South America had the largest regional improvement in this year's index, surpassing Central America and the Caribbean as the fourth most peaceful region, spearheaded by progress in Guyana and Argentina. Chile, ranked 24th in the Index is the region's most peaceful country, while Colombia, despite the ratification of the peace accord between the government and the FARC, remains the region's least peaceful country.
  5. Central America and the Caribbean fell one place since last year, with five of the 12 countries in the region experiencing deteriorations in peace. The region's most turbulent country, Mexico, saw the most substantial decline as a consequence of deteriorating relations with the US, while Costa Rica, 34 in the overall GPI, was the region's top performer, despite a slight deterioration.
  6. Sub-Saharan Africa's average score fell this year with the most notable deterioration in Ethiopia. The government-imposed six-month state of emergency was reflected in indicators of domestic conflict, resulting from rising ethnic tensions and widespread violence stemming from public protest. The Central African Republic recorded the biggest improvement in the region and globally, as the country continues to emerge from a wave of inter-communal violence. Meanwhile Sierra Leone and Guinea, which have recovered from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, also registered improvements in their overall level of peace.
  7. Most countries in Russia and Eurasia recorded improvements in the 2017 GPI, but the region retains the third-worst regional score. Moldova, Kazakhstan and Georgia are the most peaceful countries in the region, and despite slight improvements in overall peacefulness, Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine are the three least peaceful.
  8. South Asia hosts some countries as peaceful as Bhutan (ranked 13th overall), yet also some of the least peaceful countries in the world such as Pakistan (152nd) and Afghanistan (162nd). The scores for Sri Lanka and Pakistan improved this year, while the only deteriorations (although moderate) were registered in Nepal and Afghanistan. In Nepal, a high level of political instability is partly to blame for the slow progress in rebuilding efforts after the devastating earthquake of 2015, while Afghanistan's overall score deteriorated for the sixth successive year as overall hostility continued to increase.
  9. MENA witnessed a further deterioration in its overall score in 2017, with regional instability exacerbated by the intense rivalry between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies, with Saudi Arabia at the forefront. That said, almost half the countries have bucked the overall negative trend in the region by achieving an improvement in their overall score. Morocco continues to benefit from a broader degree of political and social stability, while tensions between Qatar and some fellow Gulf Arab states have eased. Iran's overall score has also improved following a high turnout in elections in early 2016 which is reflected in a reduction in political instability and the likelihood of violent demonstrations.

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About the Global Peace Index (GPI)

This is the 11th edition of the GPI: the world's leading measure of global peacefulness produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). It gauges on-going domestic and international conflict, safety and security in society, and the degree of militarisation in 163 countries and territories by taking into account 23 indicators.

About the Institute for Economics and Peace

IEP is an international and independent think tank dedicated to shifting the world's focus to peace as a positive, achievable and tangible measure of human well-being and progress. It has offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague and Mexico City.

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SOURCE Institute for Economics and Peace