The Safest Places to Live
America is a wonderful place to live, but we endure more than our fair share of violence. Murders, violent crime, not to mention the multiple wars in which we are involved all help explain why the U.S. is fairly far down on the list of the most peaceful countries in the world.
The Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Australia, has compiled its annual Global Peace Index and found that the U.S. ranks as the 85th most peaceful country out of 149. That means we fall behind countries like Cuba (72) and Nepal (82), a nation that has been has been on the verge of political revolt for several years.
The study is based on a long list of factors that the Institute deems crucial for measuring a country’s peacefulness. Factors include the level of violent crime, the likelihood of violent demonstrations and the degree of political stability. Beyond this, the study also takes into account the amount of money that the country invests in military, the percent of the population that is currently in jail and the ease with which citizens can get their hands on weapons. Each of these factors are weighted, with domestic factors counting a bit more than external factors.
Here are the 10 most peaceful countries in the world and, just for comparison, we are also including the five most dangerous countries as well.
10th Most Peaceful Country: Sweden
Despite the often violent crime novels of Stieg Larsson, a popular Swedish writer, this country is one of the most peaceful in the world. Sweden is traditionally neutral in foreign conflicts and has relatively little civil unrest at home. It was ranked as the 6th most peaceful country on last year’s list but saw its rank fall a bit because it signed up to help the NATO effort fighting the war in Afghanistan. According to the U.S. State Department, Sweden typically has a low crime rate, but there are “increasing” instances of violent crime in the country. Also, in recent months, Sweden has signaled that it may pursue nuclear power, which could prove useful to the country, but could be considered a potentially dangerous weapon. Could these developments push Sweden out of the top 10 on next year’s list?
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9th Most Peaceful Country: Finland
Finland, like all Nordic countries, ranks high on the Global Peace Index because its society is, according to the Institute, “broadly harmonious” and “free from civil conflict.” Finland is not involved in any international disputes and is not even a member of NATO. The country’s one trace of violence is that it has one of the highest homicide rates in Europe, which some argue is because the country imprisons people infrequently. That said, recent studies have shown that Finland’s murder rate is improving.
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7th Most Peaceful Country (TIE): Luxembourg
If you’re looking for a peaceful place to live, few countries are as free from violence as Luxembourg. This country had the best possible scores for homicide rates and violent demonstrations and, according to the Institute, not only does Luxembourg refrain from international disputes, but it also devotes just 0.4% of its gross domestic product to the military, which is the lowest in the world. Of course, one could argue that this makes Luxembourg a bit too vulnerable should someone decide to attack, but perhaps the government is banking on the fact that the country is tiny enough that invaders might overlook it.
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7th Most Peaceful Country (TIE): Denmark
Like the other Scandinavian countries on the list, Denmark is traditionally a peaceful place, with few demonstrations and a low homicide rate, but in recent years, the country has seen a bit more conflict at home and abroad. Most notably, the country joined the NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan. In 2008, Denmark was ravaged by riots as a result of the infamous cartoons of Muhammad published in one of its newspapers. And this year, there have been more protests, this time as a result of the government’s attempts to balance the budget by making some severe cuts. Oh, and we almost forgot to mention the newest development in Denmark: dangerous biker gangs.
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6th Most Peaceful Country: Ireland
People may sometimes think of the Irish as a drunken lot, but apparently one thing they are not is violent. The country enjoys a low violent crime rate and few violent demonstrations, and more than that, Ireland, like Luxembourg, seems disinterested in international conflicts. The country devotes just 0.6% of its GDP to military expenses. Still, like many countries in Europe, the nation agreed to join the NATO effort in Afghanistan. However, in the past year, north of the border, there has been an increase in violence from fringe groups in Northern Ireland, including a car bomb that exploded back in February. It remains to be seen whether these violent outbursts will escalate in the second half of the year.
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5th Most Peaceful Country: Norway
Last year, Norway was in the top three most peaceful countries, but according to the Institute, it has become slightly more violent, partly because it joined the NATO effort in Afghanistan and partly because it began to import more weapons between 2004 and 2008 in an attempt to improve its navy. Norway is continuing to flaunt its Navy now, as it recently held a drill alongside a Russian submarine ship. In fact, Norway is also known for having one of the nicest prisons in the world, and yet they also have a very low crime rate.
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4th Most Peaceful Country: Austria
It has been decades since Austria was involved in a major war. Now the country devotes just 1% of its GDP to the military and enjoys good relations with its neighbors and a stable political atmosphere. However, as the Institute points out, last year there were some protests to improve the country’s educational system.
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3rd Most Peaceful Country: Japan
According to the Institute’s study, there were no incidents of civil unrest in Japan last year and the country devotes less than 1% of its GDP to the military. That said, the country does have some tense relationships with two of its neighbors, North Korea and China. This year, Japan angered China by voicing its support for a stronger U.S. presence in the country in order to serve as a potential counterpoint to China’s military. And relationships between Japan and North Korea have become more tense this year as Japan has imposed new sanctions on the country in response to North Korea’s alleged attack on a South Korean ship. As of yet, there has been relatively little direct conflict between these three countries, but the ship incident has made the entire region a bit more volatile.
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2nd Most Peaceful Country: Iceland
Iceland started out last year in the midst of a terrible financial system collapse that led to riots across the country. But as the year continued, a new government administration settled into power and the economy began to improve, pacifying the people once again. As the Institute points out in its report, Iceland continues to have a “harmonious” society with little violent crime and one of the lowest rates of incarceration in the world. Indeed, the only violence to come from Iceland this year so far seems to be the volcano and the many European tourists it has angered.
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The Most Peaceful Country: New Zealand
Sure, it may be the setting for some amazing battle scenes between hobbits, dwarves, goblins and a giant, fiery eye, but for the past two years, this country has been deemed the most peaceful in the world. According to the Institute, New Zealand received the best possible scores for factors like violent demonstrations, homicide rates and relations with neighboring countries.
The country first clinched the top spot last year after they elected John Key, a former trader from Merrill Lynch, to be Prime Minister. His government has proven incredibly popular, which helps to quell any possibility of civil unrest. However, that hasn’t stopped New Zealanders from protesting other countries like Israel and the U.S. At the moment, New Zealand does have more than 100 troops invested in the war in Afghanistan and while Australia has indicated it will remove its troops in the next two years, New Zealand has made no such plans.
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5th Most Dangerous Country: Pakistan
For many Americans, Pakistan has replaced Afghanistan as the new face of terrorist threats against our country. But terrorism has also ravaged Pakistan too. According to the Institute, there were more than 11,000 deaths due to “terrorism-related violence” in Pakistan last year, which is nearly twice the number that occurred the year before. And violence in this country shows little sign of abating this year. Every week seems to bring news of another car bomb from an insurgent or a drone attack from our military. Beyond this, there is the ever-present threat of war between Pakistan and its neighbor India, both of whom have nuclear weapons at their disposal. Recently, there have been strikes and protests in Kashmir, an Indian region that many Pakistanis believe belongs to their country.
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4th Most Dangerous Country: Sudan
According to the Institute, as many as 300,000 Sudanese citizens have died since 2003 because of “war, famine and disease” stemming from the genocide taking place in Darfur. And the crisis only continues to ravage the country. The Sudanese continue to suffer fatalities and displacement as a result of ethnic disputes and international aid agencies are struggling to help those affected by the crisis.
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3rd Most Dangerous Country: Afghanistan
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Afghanistan ended up as one of the three most dangerous countries in the world, but there is a silver lining to this: it’s not number one. In 2009, 2,400 Afghanis were killed due to skirmishes between the military and the Taliban. Yet, as the Institute points out, the political climate in Afghanistan is gradually becoming more stable, which will hopefully help to limit the level of violence in the years to come. Unfortunately, that may not happen this year. A recent United Nations report found that violence in Afghanistan through the first half of 2010 was nearly double what it was in the same period last year. And it remains to be seen whether relieving General McChrystal from his role as commander of U.S. operations there will have any effect in further destabilizing the country.
Photo Credit: US Army
2nd Most Dangerous Country: Somalia
Somalia is not a happy place. The country has not had a proper government since 1991 and according to the report, more than 20% of Somalia’s population was displaced because of domestic conflicts as of last year. The country is frequently in the news these days for being at the center of a massive pirate operation. But the country is also flooded with Islamic militants who are responsible for much conflict and will attack citizens for anything, even watching the World Cup. Yet, as bad as this country is, it’s still not the most violent country in the world.
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The Most Dangerous Country: Iraq
Despite the growing number of adventure travelers who get a thrill out of visiting the country, Iraq is not a place you’d want to live in, at least not yet. Last year, there were 4,644 civilians killed in the country and many more injured in conflicts. This year, car bombs and attacks have continued to ravage the country and what’s more, President Obama hinted yesterday that our military involvement in that country may not end completely until after 2011, the previous date stated for our exit. So Iraq could remain a volatile country dangerous for its citizens and our own for several more years to come.
Photo Credit: US Army
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