Give Peace a Chance: Iceland, New Zealand Top List of Most Peaceful Countries

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Though its Grimsvotn volcano is currently causing some disruption, Iceland has something to brag about. The nation has been ranked the most peaceful country in the world, according to the 2011 Global Peace Index. It scored low for various indicators including the number of external and internal conflicts fought, political instability, military expenditure, and level of violent crime.

(PHOTOS: The Eerie Beauty of Iceland’s Volcano)

So did New Zealand, which was ranked second in the list of most peaceful countries. And Japan, which could do with a compliment as it recovers from the massive 9.0 earthquake that struck the islands in March, comes third.

In some areas, peacefulness increased. North America has improved slightly since last year, mostly thanks to Canada, which jumped six places in this year’s ranking. And although the U.S. has undergone little improvement in terms of its overall score,  its ranking has moved from 85th to 82nd. Western Europe is the most peaceful region for five years running, and four Nordic countries are ranked in the top ten.

But looking at the bigger picture, the world is looking  “slightly less peaceful,” as described by the international think tank. The Institute for Economics and Peace highlights a surge in threat of terrorist acts and a greater likelihood of violent demonstrations. “[The] Arab Spring unrest heralds [the] biggest ever change in rankings,” according to the report, and Libya tumbled 83 spots.

Governments aren’t satisfying their citizens, the report notes. Rather than the conflicts being caused by conflicts between nations, they are being caused by citizens and their governments. Arabs, fed up of a weakening economy and crime, attempted to overthrow dictatorial regimes. And just recently, Arab-style demonstrations took place in Spain, with tens of thousands of Spaniards taking over central squares in 60 countries.

(PHOTOS: Tunisia’s tumultuous month)

Sub-Saharan Africa is still the region least at peace, with Sudan and Somalia at the bottom of the index.

The implications of such lack of peacefulness also has a devastating effect on the economy. The report states that, had the world been 25% more peaceful over the past year, $2 trillion could have been contributed to solving climate change, achieving the Millennium Development Goals and helping Greece, Portugal and Ireland out of their public debt.  Japan could also have benefited after it experienced history’s most expensive disaster – the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

(PHOTOS: Surviving the earthquake aftermath in Japan)

Here are the world’s top 10 most peaceful countries according to the Global Peace Index 2011:

1. Iceland

2. New Zealand

3. Japan

4. Denmark

5. Czech Republic

6. Austria

7. Finland

8. Canada

9. Norway

10. Slovenia