In 2011, world peace improved for the first time in three years. Incidents of terrorism fell and the global economic downturn decreased violence by reducing the amount countries spent on military budgets. However, while many parts of the world improved, others got worse as the result of rising commodity costs, increased protests and internal conflicts.

This article was originally published by 24/7 Wall St.

Recently, The Institute for Economics and Peace released the sixth edition of their annual Global Peace Index. The report examines 158 third-world, developing and developed nations around the world based on 23 separate indicators that, combined, measure the relative level of internal and external conflict in a country.

According to the report, “peace is notoriously difficult to define,” but in its most basic form it is “harmony achieved by the absence of war or conflict.” According to the IEP, those countries that can avoid military or diplomatic conflict with other nations and maintain stability and safety within their own borders are peaceful.

The 23 components that comprise the Global Peace Index, or GPI, are broken into two categories. Internal conflicts, which accounted for 60% of the total score, included measures of criminality, violent demonstrations and terrorism in each country, as well as the presence of violent internal political conflicts. According chairman and founder of the IEP, Steve Killelae, “Internal indicators measure the internal peace of a nation. So to describe a perfect nation, there would be no crime, no one in jail, and no need for police. The most peaceful nation would have the least of all three.” The other category, external peace, included military capability, the importing and exporting of weapons, and diplomatic relations with bordering nations.

According to the report, the most peaceful nations in the world are primarily in Europe, including several Scandinavian countries. New Zealand, Japan and Canada are also among the most peaceful. The countries with the greatest levels of external and internal violence are primarily in Africa, Eastern Europe and the tumultuous Middle East.

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Of the components that make up the index, some were much more likely to correspond with high levels of peace or the lack of peace than others. Countries with easy access to small arms were much more likely to be violent. The most violent countries in the world, including Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan, are all rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit as having the greatest access to small arms.

The level of political terror in a country is also a major indicator for overall violence there, according to the report. Of the countries with the highest GPI score, all have among the highest levels of politically sponsored oppression, which comes in the form of imprisoning and murdering dissidents. The worst in this category include countries like the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and North Korea, all of which are scored as the least peaceful in the world. The countries with the highest peace ratings, including New Zealand and Canada, all have the lowest possible levels of political terrorism.

The IEP also considers several socioeconomic factors that are not themselves part of the rank, but that they measured as possible drivers of violence and peace. The data suggests that while a country’s GDP, adult literacy and unemployment do not appear to have a strong impact on peace, others appear to be directly related. The presence of civil liberties and freedom of the press have much closer relationships to peace, according to the report.

The clearest among these are political factors such as corruption. According Killelae, the relationship between corruption and the lack of peace is profound: Slight increases in corruption do not appear to affect slight increases in peace, but he says that once a tipping point is reached peace “just disappears.” While the IEP is not exactly sure why corruption is such a powerful indicator, Killelae suggests that it is near perfect measure of “just how well functioning the level of government is.”

According Transparency International’s measure, which IEP also considered, all but one of the most peaceful countries in the report has very low levels of corruption. Most of the least peaceful countries, including Somalia, Sudan and North Korea, have among the highest levels of corruption.

The Institute for Economics and Peace compiled more than 50 separate sets of data from a variety of sources, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, the World Bank, UNESCO, the World Economic Forum and Transparency International to measure aspects of peace. Using IEP’s original sources, 24/7 Wall St. reproduced data for the factors the report determined to have the strongest correlations nationally to the 23 measures of peace. Most of the measures, including the political terror scale, access to small arms, relations with neighboring countries, and likelihood of violent demonstrations, are on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 representing the least peaceful and 1 the most peaceful.

These are the most- and least-peaceful countries in the world.

The Most Peaceful Countries

10) Switzerland
> GPI: 1.349
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 2
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 1

The Swiss maintain an open political culture and a well-functioning government, according to IEP. Illustrating the quality of Switzerland’s government, the country received the lowest possible score for political instability. While famed for its neutrality in global, international and regional political issues, Switzerland maintains strong relations with other nations in its region. However, the country has compulsory military service and exports more weapons, relative to its size, than any country in Europe.

9) Finland
> GPI: 1.348
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 2
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 2

Since at least 2007, Finland has been among the 10 most peaceful countries ranked by the IEP, falling slightly from its rank of seventh last year. According to the report, this is due to improvement in the levels of peace in other countries rather than any declines in Finland itself. The state has a policy of strategic neutrality, and it is one of the few countries in the region to opt out of applying for NATO membership. The state scores very well across the board for measures of democracy, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the effectiveness of democracy.

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8) Slovenia
> GPI: 1.330
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 1
> Relations with neighboring countries: 2
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 2

Slovenia was ranked the most peaceful of the 29 nations in Central and Eastern Europe. Explaining Slovenia’s ranking, the IEP cites low levels of violent crimes, a low proportion of the population in jail and an extremely low homicide rate. Though many of the countries formerly constituting Yugoslavia have struggled to maintain peace and adequate human rights, according the U.S. Department of State, “Slovenia has made great progress in establishing democratic institution [and] enshrining respect for human rights.”

7) Ireland
> GPI: 1.328
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 2
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 2

Although Ireland is typically in the top 10 rankings for the most peaceful countries, in 2009 and 2011 it dropped out because of “economic and political crises,” the IEP explains. Ireland reentered the top 10 in 2012 by reducing its military expenditure to just 1.2% of its gross domestic product and by increasing its political stability, which has far-reaching effects on internal peace. Unlike most of the other peaceful countries, Ireland has slightly elevated levels of organized internal conflict. This is due to disputes between parts of the Protestant Unionist community and parts of the Catholic Nationalist community.

6) Austria
> GPI: 1.328
> Political terror scale: 1.5
> Access to small arms: 2
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 2

Austria ranked as the third-most peaceful country in Europe, due in part to minimal violence and political conflict within the country. Austria’s equitable distribution of income may be partially responsible for the absence of such conflicts. The country maintains warm ties with neighboring nations. According the U.S. State Department, Austria has also been active in “bridge-building to the East” by maintaining close ties to Eastern European countries. And the country spends just 0.6% of its GDP on its military and has low violent crime and homicide rates.

5) Japan
> GPI: 1.326
> Political terror scale: 1.5
> Access to small arms: 1
> Relations with neighboring countries: 3
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 1

According to the IEP, Japan is the second-most peaceful of the 25 nations in the Asia Pacific region, behind only New Zealand. The country has little internal conflict, and firearms are difficult to come by. However, Amnesty International chastised Japan for its capital punishment program, which carries out the clandestine hanging of prisoners without their foreknowledge. Additionally, Japan maintains frigid relations with some of its neighbors, the most important being China. However, Japan’s overall positive GPI score is supported by the nation’s responses to issues such as nuclear armament.

4) Canada
> GPI: 1.317
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 2
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1.5
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 2

Canada has been in the top 10 most peaceful countries in the world for four out of the past six years, only dropping out in 2008 and 2010 when the number of soldier fatalities in Afghanistan increased. The biggest strike against Canada’s peace score is that it has a relatively high military capability and sophistication, even though it presently is not involved in any conflict. Overall however, Canada has good relations with neighboring countries and is part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canadians enjoy some of the world’s highest levels of civil liberties, including freedom of the press, trade unions and freedom to protest.

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3) New Zealand (tied for 2nd)
> GPI: 1.239
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 1
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 1

Every year since 2007, the IEP has ranked New Zealand as one of the world’s five most peaceful. This year, New Zealand tied with Denmark as the second-most peaceful of the 158 countries studied. A small proportion of its population in jail, limited military capacity and sophistication, and strong relations with Australia all help its score. New Zealand receives the best score possible on the Cignarelli and Richards (CIRI) Political Terror Scale. New Zealand also received the highest score in Amnesty International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, indicating there is little suspicion of corruption in the country.

2) Denmark (tied for 2nd)
> GPI: 1.239
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 1
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 1

Denmark moved up two places this year, due in part to government budget cuts that decreased military spending, according to the IEP. The biggest strike Denmark has against its level of peace is the moderate sophistication and capabilities of its military. Denmark has the world’s smallest Gini coefficient — 24.7 — which means the country has a high level of income equality. With extremely low levels of violent crime and conflict, paired with political democracy and equality, the Danish enjoy a very high level of general peace. Denmark also has a notably high level of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

1) Iceland
> GPI: 1.113
> Political terror scale: 1
> Access to small arms: 1
> Relations with neighboring countries: 1
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 1

Iceland, a country with only about 320,000 residents, takes the top honors for the most peaceful country for the second year in a row. The small country recorded the best possible score on all but four of the criteria that determine levels of peace, including the best scores on the homicide rate, imports of major conventional weapons and the likelihood of violent demonstrations. Ironically, Iceland’s continued fiscal belt-tightening helped the country lower its score from last year. The Icelandic Defense Agency, which had a budget of $20 million in 2008, now has been disbanded, according to the IEP. The country has no standing army, and military expenses total just over 1% of GDP.

The Least Peaceful Countries

10) Pakistan
> GPI: 2.833
> Political terror scale: 5
> Access to small arms: 4
> Relations with neighboring countries: 4
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 4

The highest GPI indicator for Pakistan is the political terror scale — the most highly correlated internal indicator for less peaceful countries. Pakistan received the highest rating possible under this scale, which means that the country’s leaders have “no limits on the thoroughness with which they pursue personal or ideological goals.” The entire population experiences political violence, terror and integrity rights violations, based on the CIRI Human Rights Data Project’s scoring criteria. Pakistan received one of the worst possible scores for its relations with neighboring countries, due in large part to its border conflict with India over a portion of the Kashmir region, a conflict that has persisted since 1947.

9) Israel
> GPI: 2.842
> Political terror scale: 4
> Access to small arms: 3
> Relations with neighboring countries: 4
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 3

Peace continues to be a problem in Israel, even though its ranking has decreased in the past three years. The most pressing issues are its political terror scale and relations with neighboring countries, both of which have a 4 out of 5, nearly the worst possible score. That means that a large part of the population experiences political violence and that Israel has open conflicts with neighboring countries. According to the IEP, “Israel remains in a formal ‘state of war’ with its northern neighbours, Syria and Lebanon, and relations with much of the Arab world and Iran remained highly strained.” Paired with this conflict, Israel has the least peaceful score for heavy weapons and military capability.

8) Central African Republic
> GPI: 2.872
> Political terror scale: 4.5
> Relations with neighboring countries: 3
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 3

In the Central African Republic, easy access to small arms and a high level of organized internal conflict, represented by scores of 5 and 4 respectively, are two of the largest impediments to peace. This conflict is largely due to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that attacks villages, abducts people and has become infamous for creating child soldiers. The Central African Armed Forces, the country’s national military, has been relatively ineffective in protecting citizens from rebel group attacks and has contributed to human rights violations. The country also had a perceived criminality score of 5, the worst score possible. According to the IEP, citizens of a country receiving that score are “living in constant fear of violence between groups.”

7) North Korea
> GPI: 2.932
> Political terror scale: 5
> Access to small arms: 4
> Relations with neighboring countries: 5
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 1

Political terror is highly present in North Korea, which has had a tripling in the number of public executions this year, following the succession of Kim Jong-il by his son, Kim Jong-un. The sinking of a South Korean naval vessel has exacerbated North Korea’s poor relations with its southern neighbor, almost bringing the two nations to war. The country is also heavily militarized, spending an estimated 20% of GDP on its military — the highest such figure in the world. North Korea likely views this as necessary in order to maintain its missile program and its demilitarized zone. The country also is especially corrupt, even apart from the authoritarian ruling of the Kims. From the 1970s through the 2000s, numerous government officials were arrested for trafficking in drugs abroad.

6) Russia
> GPI: 2.938
> Political terror scale: 4
> Access to small arms: 4
> Relations with neighboring countries: 3
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 3

The high levels of political terror and perceived corruption mean that many Russians experience human rights violations and are aware of corruption in the current administration. According to Transparency International, government censorship, low levels of officials following the rule of law, and very little control over corruption make Russia one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Also contributing to low levels of peace is that Russia engages in open conflict with the North Caucasus region, including parts of Georgia and Russian territories like Dagestan and Chechnya. According to the IEP, the ethnically diverse Caucasus region is subject to high levels of violence and ambushes against local authorities, but there is still a moderate level of organized internal conflict in the country because other regions are relatively peaceful.

5) Democratic Republic of the Congo
> GPI: 3.073
> Political terror scale: 5
> Access to small arms: 5
> Relations with neighboring countries: 3
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 5

The GPI score for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has increased each year since 2008. The deterioration of this peacefulness was due to an increasingly high likelihood of violent demonstrations preceding the presidential election and an unsuccessful coup attempt in Kinshasa, the DRC’s largest city. Human Rights Watch has accused the national military of committing atrocities against citizens, including the murder of more than 100 civilians in 2009. The military also has engaged in conflict with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the LRA, rebel groups known for their violence and human rights violations that have sought refuge in the DRC. Perhaps most tragically, the country has the world’s second-highest infant mortality rate, with 111.7 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births.

4) Iraq
> GPI: 3.192
> Political terror scale: 4.5
> Access to small arms: 5
> Relations with neighboring countries: 2
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 4

In 2012, Iraq became the least peaceful country in the Middle East, the IEP’s least peaceful region. With the body count at 4,087 civilian deaths this past year, the Iraqi people are subject to high levels of political terror and atrocities from organized internal conflict. Iraq also has one of the most dysfunctional governments in the world and has a high level of perceived corruption. Last December, Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s vice president and most senior Sunni Arab politician, was arrested for allegedly funding attacks against the government. Opponents of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused him of using the judicial process against al-Hashemi to consolidate power. As a positive, many Iraqis were able to return home in 2011, reducing the number of refugees and internally displaced people to 9.4% of the population.

3) Sudan
> GPI: 3.193
> Political terror scale: 5
> Access to small arms: 5
> Relations with neighboring countries: 4
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 4

According to the IEP, refugees and internally displaced persons accounted for 10.5% of the population of Sudan, worse than all countries except Afghanistan, Bhutan, Cyprus, Iraq and Somalia. The Sudanese government has been accused of assisting janjawid militants and several other groups in Darfur, while simultaneously combating the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North in the country’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions. Further violent disputes have arisen with the new nation of South Sudan over the Abeyi province. Additionally, the country was given the worst possible score by the IEP for ease of access to small arms and light weapons. In 2009, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir, alleging war crimes.

2) Afghanistan
> GPI: 3.252
> Political terror scale: 4.5
> Access to small arms: 5
> Relations with neighboring countries: 3
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 4

In 2011, according to the United Nations, 3,021 Afghani civilians were killed as a Taliban-led insurgency has grown more active and violent. The high level of domestic conflict in Afghanistan has turned 3 million people into either refugees or internally displaced people. Ongoing domestic conflicts likely have done considerable damage to Afghanistan’s economy as well. At $506 per person per year, the country’s GDP per capita is lower than all but five of the 158 countries studied by the IEP. On June 14th, the 2,000th death in the U.S.’s Operation Enduring Freedom was recorded.

1) Somalia
> GPI: 3.392
> Political terror scale: 4.5
> Access to small arms: 5
> Relations with neighboring countries: 5
> Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 5

The war-torn nation of Somalia has been dubbed “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster” by the UN. The country has “not had a nationally functioning state government since its descent into civil war in 1991,” according to the IEP. And there has been violent confrontation between Islamist rebel groups in an effort to gain power. The power struggle between the warlords, specifically the Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabaab, as well as the counterinsurgency by the Transitional Federal Government, have led to the death, displacement and human rights violations of millions of Somali citizens. Because of the constant warfare, an average of 3.25% of the population left the country each year between 2000 and 2005.