What Does it Take to be Among the World's Most Peaceful Countries?

PHOTO: Fans celebrate in the streets after Canada defeated the USA 3-2 in overtime to win the gold medal in ice hockey at the 2010 Olympic winter games. Canada also beats the U.S. in the 2013 Global Peace Index, by a lot.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The United States is one of the world's least peaceful countries, and it's not just because of lax gun laws or tragic shootings.

The Institute for Economics and Peace [IEP], a New York based think tank,' says that the U.S. is rather unpeaceful because it actually exports violence beyond its borders. It recently ranked America, 100th out of 162 countries, in its 7th annual Global Peace Index.

The IEP's Peace Index looks at how each country fares across 21 indicators that include homicide rates, levels of internal conflict, political instability and how much a country spends on its military, relative to its income.

Despite having homicide rates that are higher than those of other developed countries, the U.S. does fairly well in domestic "peace indicators," as it has relatively low levels of violent crime and there is also a low likelihood of violent demonstrations breaking out in the country. But "external peace indicators" drag the country down in the IEP rankings. These include the amount of weapons you sell to other countries, how many wars your country is involved in, and the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal.

So what does it take, to become a peaceful country, according to the IEP? Here are the ten most peaceful nations in the IEP's Global Peace Index for 2013.

PHOTO: The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland.
The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland.

This nation of 300,000 people, is "free from conflict," according to the IEP report. Its expenditures on weapons are minimal, as there is no standing army. Iceland also came atop the rankings thanks to its small prison population. Iceland only has 47 prisoners per 100,000 residents, so in total, the country has less than 150 inmates. In contrast the U.S. has 716 prisoners per every 100,000 people, and millions of inmates as we all know.

PHOTO: Toenails painted like Danish flags.
Toenails painted like Danish flags.

In 2012, Denmark experienced a "slight increase" in terrorist activity in according to the IEP, but it also reduced weapons imports, which helped it land second place in the Global Peace Index. IEP notes that Denmark is taking some major steps to downsize its military, reducing its fleet of F16 fighter jets from 48 planes to 30. Denmarks homicide rate of 1 murder per every 100,000 residents is just a fifth of the United States' rate.

PHOTO: Michael Steele /Allsport
The New Zealand rugby team performs its traditional Haka, a pre-game ritual.

The Kiwis also cancelled the purchase of fighter jets in order to focus on economic priorities. The country's prison population is relatively high according to IEP, at 194 inmates per every 100,000 people, but New Zealand got some points for maintaining good relations with its neighbors. It is currently negotiating a "common border" agreement with Australia. Could you imagine a "common border" deal between the U.S. and Mexico?

PHOTO: Manfred Schmid/Getty Images
A beauty queen at the Wiener Wiesn-Fest 2013, an Austrian folk festival.

Violent crime is extremely low in Austria according to IEP, and military spending is also tiny, at 0.8 percent of the GDP. In contrast, U.S. military expenditures are equivalent to 4.7 percent of America's GDP.

PHOTO: A mural at the Art Basel, festival in Basel, Switzerland.
A mural at the Art Basel, festival in Basel, Switzerland.

Curiously for a "top ten" country Switzerland has a large military industry, and its weapons exports per capita are among the largest in Europe. However, a law that stops Swiss companies from exporting weapons to countries that are embroiled in internal conflicts helped Switzerland to do better in this year's peace index. Internally, the country is very tranquil, with extremely low levels of violent crime.

PHOTO: A carbon molecule simulator in Tokyo.
A carbon molecule simulator in Tokyo.

Japan's constitution prevents its defense forces from developing "war potential," which means that Japan is not a military threat to its neighbors nowadays. Tensions with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands however, meant that Japan ranked lowly in "external" peace indicators, particularly in the category called "relations with neighboring countries." However, when it comes to "internal" peace Japan is strong. The country only has 55 prisoners per every 100,000 people and gun purchasing laws are extremely strict.

PHOTO: A library in Helsinki, Finland has one of the world's top education systems.
A library in Helsinki, Finland has one of the worlds top education systems.

Like Austria, Finland is also looking at ways to cut defense spending. This northern European country, wedged between Russia and Sweden, has not been part of any international conflicts since World War II.

PHOTO: A Canadian hockey fan celebrates victory over the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics.
A Canadian hockey fan celebrates victory over the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics.

When it comes to hockey Canadians may be rough. But Canadians do not seem to be keen on military spending, their government has actually cut the army's budget by 22% since 2010. Military expenditure which is equivalent to 1% of GDP, is far smaller than that of the U.S., which spends 4.7% of GDP on its military. Canada's homicide rate is just one third of the United States', and strict gun control laws, also make it harder for Canadians to purchase these weapons.

PHOTO: Residential apartment blocks in the Ostermalm district of Stockholm.
Residential apartment blocks in the Ostermalm district of Stockholm.

Sweden has less than 1 murder, per every 100,000 residents. The country registered 9,200 robberies in 2011, while in that same year, the US tallied more than 350,000 robberies. So domestically, Sweden is very safe, but it is one of Europe's largest weapons exporters, so this has somewhat pulled it down in the IEP rankings.

PHOTO: Carnival celebrations in Binche, Belgium.
Carnival celebrations in Binche, Belgium.

Belgium gets points in the Global Peace Index, because it is a frequent contributor to UN and NATO peacekeeping missions. However, political divisions between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking Belgians, have increased the prospects of political instability, which is another category in the IEP's rankings.

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