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Michael Collins

Institute for Economics and Peace, Executive Director | USA

Michael Collins manages IEP relations with the US Government and the United Nations, develops working partnerships with US-based civil society organizations, foundations, universities, businesses and think tanks and seeks new opportunities to build IEP’s presence and impact throughout North, Central and South America. Prior to working with IEP, Michael helped develop and oversee educational and job creation programs in emerging nations recovering from natural disasters, working frequently in communities affected by poverty and gang violence. Michael Collins discussed the Global Peace Index 2020 insights, with a particular focus on the decline of democratic values and the rise of autocracy globally. Collins presented information on the indicators of the peace and its three main domains. He also underlined the significant decrease of peacefulness in democracies.

The recent IEP Report provides insight into how well the international community is working towards reducing violence in reference to targets and indicators of SDG #16.22 The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute. It is dedicated to shifting the world’s focus to peace as a positive, tangible and achievable measure of human well-being and progress. The origins of the institute stem essentially from the question, what are the most peaceful countries on Earth?

At the time, there was sort of a lot of debate about this, but there was very little quantitative research around this subject. The Global Peace Index stems from the desire to answer that question, as well as to track trends in peace and to calculate the economic cost of violence as a way of incentivizing peace building activities. This work has been very well received and it is consulted frequently by a variety of multilateral organizations and governments around the world, as well as university courses. This is the 14th year of the Global Peace Index and it ranks 163 countries according to their relative state of peace. The definition of peace in the index is the “lack of violence or fear of violence.”

The track uses 23 different indicators, which are largely distributed in three domains:

• The first one is related to domestic and international conflict.

• The second is related to measures of safety and security within society,

• The third is the degree of militarization.

The situation overall is that the average level of peacefulness has deteriorated by 0.34 percent. That is the ninth deterioration in the last 12 years. 81 countries became more peaceful, 80 countries deteriorated and improvements were driven by changes in terrorism.

The political terror scale underlines the differences of democracies and authoritarian regimes. It refers to things like extrajudicial killings, imprisonment without trial and torture. Iceland, New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, Denmark, Canada, Singapore, Czech Republic, Japan, and Switzerland are the 10 most peaceful countries for the 2020 report. All of these, with the exception of Singapore, are considered or assumed to be full democracies.

Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Congo DRC, Central African Republic, and Russia are the 10 least peaceful countries. All of these, with the exception of South Sudan that hasn’t made it into the metric that we consult are authoritarian, deemed to be authoritarian regimes. In terms of trends of peace, there has been a decline in peace over the last 12 years. Overall, 81 countries became less peaceful, 79 countries became more peaceful, highlighting that decreases in peace, larger than increases in peacefulness and overall peace over the last 10, 12 years has declined by 2.5 percent.

It is also observed that the levels of militarization have continued to improve by 4.5 percent, a small deterioration in safety and security. There has been a significant increase in ongoing conflict that is largely an authoritarian regime in the Middle East. There is a general difference even in trends with regards to levels of peacefulness for democracies versus authoritarian regimes. But interestingly, peacefulness in democracies is significantly decreased over the last and full democracies over the last five years.

That correlates very closely with the civil unrest seen since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. This is breaking down these indicators slightly more. The deaths from terrorism are now at the lowest point that they have been in the last decade. This situation is a result of a large spike that coincides with Iraq and Syria, where it is often seen a very close correlation between battle deaths and the impact of terrorism, because terrorism is essentially used as an instrument of war. They have seen that the number of refugees in decades has steadily increased in the world. On the good side, there has seen a sustained decrease in global homicide rates.

In terms of militarization, a general decrease in armed forces personnel, sustained decrease in military expenditure; although there has been a steady increase in the number of weapons imports. The economic impact of violence in 2020 is calculated to be 14.5 trillion dollars. It equates to 10 percent of the world’s GDP or nearly 2,000 dollars per person. This is the image of a world that is completely peaceful. But, what if they can make it 10 percent more peaceful? That would mean that there is 1.5 trillion dollars that could be used for other economic activities that are going to contribute further to development of peacefulness.

Positive peace refers to the attitude, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. This is a term that is used commonly in the peacebuilding field. We have tried to develop a quantitative measure and compare the results of Global Peace Index with thousands of measures of socioeconomic progress to see which of the ones that correlate most closely with subsequent ups and downs in a country’s level of peace to be able to see essentially what makes peace tick.

There were 300 indicators that correlate very closely which fall into eight buckets, also called as the eight pillars of positive peace. These are the characteristics of the most peaceful societies on earth. These pillars interact and relate to each other systemically and incredibly complex ways. Countries with high levels of positive peace also have higher per capita income, high levels of resilience to crises such as COVID-19, political shocks, ecological threats, better environmental outcomes, higher measures of wellbeing and better performance on development goals. There is also a very strong correlation with the SDGs. It is observed that %85 of the SDG 169 targets are relevant to at least sort of two pillars of positive peace. The only area that is not reflected largely is the free flow of information and low levels of corruption, which are actually most described in SDG #16.

The overall positive peace globally has improved 2.5 percent over the last decade. There is a slow but progressive increase in the operations of the governments. Poverty and GDP, which are embedded in societies, have significantly been improved, that is largely a reflection of high levels of equality in society. However, over the last decade there have been a significant decrease in the attitude’s domain, which runs very counterintuitively to the improvements in structures. What does this look like in an individual country? Among the positive indicators, the largest deteriorations have been the quality of information that people have access to. A term commonly used, “fake news”, factionalized elites, which is the reality or the impression that the government does not represent the people or is controlled by a very small group of people and group grievances, as well as restrictions on freedom of the press as well. These are all also generally considered as the characteristics of authoritarian regimes. This also correlates with some of the global trends in civil unrest. There has been a sharp rise in the level of civil unrest over the last decade. The number of riots, general strikes and anti-government protests has more than doubled.

Europe has had the largest number of protests, riots and strikes, although the majority of those have been peaceful and civil unrest in sub-Saharan Africa has risen more than 800 percent. This is a breakout based on types of governance in which there is a general increase in civil unrest and all of this, but especially in what was deemed to be slowed democracies. The general impression that there is a measure of inequality and people protesting those measures.

Most of the indicators on the Global Peace Index deteriorates. On the other hand, the military expenditure may improve as countries will need all the financial resources essentially to be able to prop up their own economies. US and Europe are expected to see an increase in political instability. US-China relations are deteriorating that could have wider global implications. Support for UN Peacekeeping Operations and development aid is expected to significantly decrease that could have significant repercussions on foreign countries that are currently receiving aid and even countries that are developed are likely to be impacted.

Now, this is a very apt time to sort of reconsider how we are doing, because obviously we’re in the five-year mark of the SDGs in general. They ended by seeking foundation partners to make this possible, as well as for the development of the US Peace Index that I think would be extremely relevant to the time as well.