Peaceful nations are all alike; every unstable nation is unstable in its own way
By Janet Anderson
What makes one nation more peaceful or stable than the next? Steve Killelea, the founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Economics and Peace believes that he has cracked the code that explains why some nations are more prone to instability than others. Killelea believes it all comes down to eight different elements which add up to contribute to a country’s “positive peace” score.
The elements are “a well-functioning government, low levels of corruption, strong business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information, high levels of human capital and good relationships with neighbours.” Different combinations of these elements, according to Killelea, are an accurate predictor of how much “peace” the citizens of a country get to enjoy. To repurpose Leo Tolstoy, peaceful nations are all alike; every unstable nation is unstable in its own way.
Justice Hub: How did the Global Peace Index start?
Well actually, it all started by accident. 12 years ago I was in North East Kivu in the DR Congo which, at that stage, was one of the most dangerous places in the world. I had a family foundation and we worked with the poorest of the poor so it takes us to the more stressed out nations in the world.
As I worked, I started to wonder, what is the opposite of all these stressed out nations that I’ve been spending time in? What are the most peaceful nations in the world and is there anything I could learn from them? So I did some searches on the internet and couldn’t find a thing and that’s how the Global Peace Index was born.
But there are a couple of profound questions in that. If a simple businessman such as myself can be walking through Africa and wonder “what are the most peaceful nations in the world?” then how much do we really know about peace? If you can’t measure something, can you really understand it? Similarly, if you can’t measure something then how do you know if your actions are helping or hindering you in achieving your goals.
Justice Hub: What is the purpose then of the Global Peace Index?
I think, first and foremost, it’s branding peace. We could easily have called it the Global Violence Index but that wasn’t what we are interested in. So now after ranking the nations of the world by their peacefulness, we actually do know who are truly the most peaceful nations.
A number of the nations that people thought would be right on top never turned up to be on top. They were up in the top quarter but weren't at the top. So the first thing is actually getting an accurate measure of things. This better informs government policy about where they need to focus and what they need to do. Changes in peace also inform the direction where governments need to focus on different regions of the world and in different countries.
More importantly than its influence on government policy is that the data on peacefulness also gives a basis for research to be able to understand what truly creates peaceful societies. Unless you rank a lot of the countries of the world by their peacefulness, you've got no basis for doing any statistical analysis to understand what creates peace. That body of work is called positive peace and for us, that's a truly, truly important piece of work.
Justice Hub: Let's say you are somebody living in the midst of conflict in some horrible part of the world, what difference will it make to them to know that Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world?
Probably it will make no difference at all because they are caught up in their own machinations. But if we - the Institute for Economics and Peace – can prove that there is a positive economic return to peace interventions to try and build peace and stop conflict, it means that someone else caught up in another environment that could go into conflict may not.
Justice Hub: So are you trying to prevent those conflicts from happening by investing in peace beforehand?
We would recommend that there needs to be much more research done into the positive benefits of pre-emptive measures such as peacebuilding so that we can lessen the number of conflicts starting in the world.
Justice Hub: How much benefit is there from peacebuilding? You looked at the economics as well?
When we looked at the economics, what we found is that the return on investment is 16 Dollars for every 1 Dollar if the peacebuilding operation is successful. Obviously, not all peacebuilding operations will be successful. About 25% of them are successful. And that’s still a 1 in 4 return on the money put into peacebuilding.
Justice Hub: What are all the elements that are needed for positive peace?
Positive peace is made up of eight different structures. They are things like a well-functioning government, low levels of corruption, strong business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information, high levels of human capital and good relationships with neighbours.
Justice Hub: You can prove that those are the elements that are needed?
What's interesting is that once you've got countries which are high on positive peace, you can see how that plays back against other things. Let's just take a simple example of civil resistance movements. Countries high on positive peace have far less civil resistance movements, they [such movements] last for a short amount of time, they are more moderate in their aims, they are more likely to achieve their aims and are by far less violent.
The reason for that is because highly peaceful societies - through the 8 pillars of peace - actually enable societies to be adaptive. So societies which can adapt for change are a lot more resilient and are a lot more likely to be able to meet the needs of a changing environment. So in a lot of ways, positive peace can describe an optimum environment in which human potential can flourish.
Justice Hub: Is there a role that justice plays towards positive peace in the kind of optimum environment you are describing?
The rule of law is one of the key factors in maintaining peace. It is absolutely key. But it has to be combined with low levels of corruption. The two together are what's key. You can't put in a strong rule of law, say for example in a country like Egypt, but then potentially be corrupt and very coercive.
The four factors which we feel come together to take a country to the next stage are security (being able to really provide security), the second is a better functioning government, the third is low levels of corruption and the fourth is mechanisms for addressing grievances.
Photo: Janet Anderson/Justice Hub