Measuring Peace: The Global Peace Index

Source: GPI 2016 Report

In my previous post I offered a very brief reflection about the measurement of peace and conflict and its challenges. In this post, I focus specifically on the Global Peace Index (GPI).

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the GPI was founded by an Australian entrepreneur and philanthropist, Steve Killelea, and has been produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) since 2007. The index was designed by a panel of experts from renowned universities and institutes worldwide who also update it every year, and is collated and calculated by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The purpose of the GPI is to measure a country’s level of negative peace, defined as ‘the absence of violence or the fear of violence’. To do so, 3 domains of peacefulness are used: (1) the extent to which countries are involved in internal and external conflicts (6 indicators), (2) the level of society safety and security (10 indicators), and (3) the degree of militarization of a country (7 indicators).

Even though its focus is on negative peace, the GPI goes beyond the analysis of ‘armed conflict’, centering, instead on violence more generally. As such, among its indicators we find the ‘number of refugees and internally displaced people
 as a percentage of the population’, the ‘impact of terrorism’, as well as the ‘level of violent crime’ in each country contemplated. Moreover, the index also includes the level of perceived criminality in society, which brings in a slightly more subjective aspect of peace.

In order to be calculated, the GPI relies on external databases, such as the UCDP Armed Conflict Dataset, the SIPRI database, as well as the UNHCR, besides the EIU and the EIP. Each indicator of the index is given a different weight, on a scale from 1 to 5. Moreover, a different weight is given to internal and external domains of peace, with the former corresponding to 60% of the GPI and the latter 40%.

The methodological details behind the GPI have given rise to different kinds of critiques. In a comment regarding the 2015 GPI report for instance, a political scientist from Western Cape University expressed concern with the fact that South Africa had been ranked as far less peaceful than Equatorial Guinea: out of 162 countries, South Africa ranked 136, whereas Equatorial Guinea, a “dynastic dictatorship – which suppresses protest”, ranked. 81. In his view, one of the problems of the index was the weight given to each component, a factor not clearly explained in the reports. A similar argument could be made for Brazil, which ranks 105 in the 2016 GPI report, whereas Mozambique, which relapsed into conflict in 2013, and where peace talks have been going on while thousands have been fleeing from violence, ranked 68. Whereas Brazil has high rates of crime and currently faces a big political crisis, one wonders whether the situation is actually worse than in Mozambique or whether the difference relates instead to the weight of the indicators, or even the data available in each country for each indicator.

Other critics (see also here) have pointed the problem of combining so many different elements that do not always move in unison and which do not always point to the same direction. An example would be the indicator ‘military expenditures’, which, some could argue, does not necessarily increase conflict, but may be a means to prevent it (and, thus, contribute to peace). Similarly, the high ‘number of internal security officers and police per 100.000 people’, another GPI indicators, could be good or bad depending on whether the police effectively helps curbing violent crime or whether the police itself is violent (or even both).

Another critique relates to the very selection of the indicators. Soon after the first GPI report was released, a critique was raised regarding the lack of inclusion of ‘violence against women’ in the index, one of the most widespread types of violence around the world (and probably one of the hardest to capture in numbers). A similar point could be made for the case of violence against children.

These are important considerations, without a doubt. Nevertheless, as much as the Human Development Index did with the analysis of development, I personally think that the GPI has a very positive effect when it comes to the global analysis of peace. First, I find it extremely important that it is a ‘peace’ index, and not a ‘fragility’ or conflict related index. Bringing the term ‘peace’ first provides a major shift in the narrative and focus of the analysis. Moreover, whereas the index may be used solely as a tool to compare countries (which is something useful in itself), the project behind it has broader concerns related to the understanding of what factors actually contribute to peace.

Indeed, since 2012 the GPI report has included a more specific discussion regarding positive peace, defined as “the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies”. A Positive Peace Index (PPI) was then created in order to complement the GPI. In 2015 a PPI Report was launched and in 2016 the GPI report included a major discussion about positive peace and its relation with negative peace and systems thinking.

The PPI is based on 24 indicators, distributed among 8 main domains called ‘pillars of peace’, which are, respectively: well-functioning government, sound business environment, low levels of corruption, high levels of human capital, free flow of information, good relations with neighbours and equitable distribution of resources. The 2015 and 2016 reports explain that these pillars have been empirically derived through quantitative analysis, and are “based on quantitatively identifiable common characteristics of the world’s most peaceful countries” (GPI Report, 2016: 55). The idea behind this index is, therefore, to understand the correlation between positive peace elements and the high/low level of negative peace.

In this regard, the 2016 report shares the following key findings:

  • High Positive Peace countries are more likely to maintain stability, adapt and recover from shocks as they overcome challenges.
  • Countries that are high in Positive peace are more likely to maintain high levels of peace.
  • Twice as many high Positive Peace countries improved in peace between 2008 and 2016 when compared to countries with low Positive Peace.
  • Eighty-four per cent of major political shocks occurred in low Positive Peace countries.
  • Numbers of lives lost from natural disasters between 2005 and 2015 were 13 times larger in low Positive Peace countries than in high Positive Peace countries, a disproportionately high ratio when compared to the distribution of incidents.

More generally, one of the key conclusions of the report is that positive peace has a huge impact on a country’s resiliency (i.e., stability and adaptability in the face of large shocks), stating the relevance of positive peace as a means to support negative peace. Some of these findings may seem no surprise to peace researchers, at least in theoretical terms. But the fact that these are findings from statistical correlations gives additional strength to theory.

Of course, as in the case of the GPI, many methodological aspects could be raised regarding the PPI (and I won´t pretend I am expert in statistics to questions how exactly those 8 pillars of peace were derived from statistical analysis). However, I would like to highlight why I sympathise with this index. First, the PPI helps gathering evidence about the relevance of positive peace for negative peace. Indeed, some of the ‘pillars of peace’ may seem nearly intuitive to peace researchers, but perhaps not so much for policy makers. As much as indexes are used as guidelines for policies, it is refreshing to see ‘positive peace’ factors being correlated with ‘negative peace’ and, thus, shifting the debate on peace (and security) to a more comprehensive sphere. Second, the PPI provides a policy-oriented perspective, showing concrete areas where policy intervention may contribute to peace. In this regard, it tackles not only what does not work, but it aggregates what seems to have been effective in maintaining and reinforcing peace.

That said, there is one thing that both the GPI and the PPI mostly leave outside, which is the subjective and cultural domains of peace (which affect people’s attitudes). Certainly bringing in more subjective aspects would be extremely complicated, after all, how to quantify subjectivities? Yet, how interesting would it be to aggregate cultural violence in this debate…?


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