The Drivers of Peace and Conflict in 2014

United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) distribute aid in the Yarmouk refugee camp, Syria.


The Drivers of Peace and Conflict in 2014

Murray Ackman

01 Jul 2015

The growing gap between the most and least peaceful countries has been driven by rising conflicts and terrorism. An acceptance of the rights of others is needed to tackle this, writes Murray Ackman.

The number of conflicts across the world is at the highest level in a decade, with more deaths from terrorism, and more refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) than at anytime since World War II. In contrast, Europe has reached historically unprecedented levels of peacefulness, continuing its long term declines in the levels of violent crime and homicides.

The Global Peace Index (GPI), the world's leading measure of national peacefulness released annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), reveals the gap between the most and least peaceful countries is getting larger. In the 2015 GPI, 15 out of the bottom 20 countries deteriorated in peace, whereas 15 out of the top 20 countries improved in peace.

The Index highlights that sectarian violence has led to recent falls in peace.

Peace is deteriorating in many countries because of low levels of 'Positive Peace,' a term which refers to the attitudes, institutions and structures which lead to a peaceful society. The least peaceful countries have all seen increases in the number of refugees and IDPs, conflicts, battle-related deaths and terrorist activity. With the exception of North Korea, the 20 least peaceful countries in the world have all been embroiled in recent conflict, many with sectarian overtones. There are over two billion people living in these countries.

Conflict works as a vicious cycle causing a negative feedback loop of violence. Syria, the least peaceful country on the GPI for the last two years, has seen a 60 per cent decline in peace since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The war has led to more than 200,000 deaths, displaced nearly half of the population and enabled the alarming expansion of ISIS.

At the same time as sectarian conflict has increased, religiously inspired terrorism has also risen, exacerbated by civil strife in the wake of ongoing conflicts. In 2013, 60 per cent of all deaths from terrorism occurred in Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. This increased to 80 per cent in 2014, mainly because of the rapidly escalating violence of Boko Haram and ISIS.

However, not all conflicts or acts of terrorism are driven by religious differences. In a report released last year, the IEP found that although two thirds of armed conflicts in 2013 had a religious element, all but two of these conflicts had multiple causes. The third and fourth biggest fallers in peace in the history of the GPI, Ukraine and South Sudan, are involved in conflicts which are primarily territorial and political with only incidental religious elements.

In 2014 80 per cent of deaths from terrorism occurred in five countries.

Nevertheless, the GPI highlights that sectarian violence has led to recent falls in peace. Now in its ninth year, the GPI ranks 162 nations according to their 'absence of violence' by indexing 23 different indicators. In 2015, Iceland, Denmark, and Austria are the most peaceful countries in the world and Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are the least peaceful. Last year the impact of violence on the global economy equalled 14.3 trillion dollars, or 13.4 per cent of global GDP. This is equivalent to the combined economies of Brazil, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK, and demonstrates the potential gains that can be made by improvements in peace.

The GPI also provides the tools for understanding conflicts and increasing peace. 'Positive Peace' measures improve stability and resilience creating positive feedback loops which leads to virtuous cycles of peace.

Intergroup cohesion within the least peaceful countries is needed to build resilience and enable human flourishing. The IEP has identified what the least peaceful countries need to do to improve in peace. This includes greater acceptance of the rights of others as enshrined by both formal laws and informal interactions.

Given that many internal conflicts have religious elements, inter-faith and peacebuilding dialogues can play a vital role in developing new norms for non-violent interaction and support increases in 'Positive Peace.' There is a particularly pressing need for greater intra-religious dialogue: in 2013 all but five of the 15 armed conflicts motivated in part by Islamist groups occurred in Muslim-majority countries.

The least peaceful countries also have among the highest levels of corruption in the world. Improvements in transparency can lead to gains in peace. The process of increasing the legitimacy of government institutions through reducing corruption can be facilitated by religious leaders, and can be combined with other leading figures within communities to tackle this vital issue head on.

You can find out more information about the Global Peace Index, including an interactive map, and a copy of the full report, which outlines different Positive Peace initiatives, here.


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The views expressed by this author remain solely their own and are not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.