It might surprise many people to hear that the world is growing more peaceful.

The recently released 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI), produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, finds that the global level of peace has improved slightly by 0.28 per cent over the past year. Higher levels of peace were recorded by 93 countries, while 68 reported a deterioration.

The GPI uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources to rank 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. It covers around 99.7 per cent of the world’s population. The index gauges global peace using three broad themes: the level of safety and security in society; the extent of domestic and international conflict; and the degree of militarisation.

Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark, all of which were ranked highly in last year’s GPI.

This map shows the relative state of peace across the globe
This map shows the relative state of peace across the globe
Image: Institute for Economics and Peace

There was also very little change at the bottom of the index. Syria remains the least peaceful country in the world, preceded by Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen.

Six of the world's nine regions have improved. South America registered the largest improvement, overtaking Central America and the Caribbean as the fourth most peaceful region. South America’s score benefited from improvements across all three domains, with particularly strong gains in societal safety and security.

The largest regional deteriorations occurred in North America, followed by sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The score for North America deteriorated entirely as a result of the US, which more than offset a mild improvement in Canada. The US’s score has been dragged down largely because of a deterioration in two indicators: the level of perceived criminality in society and the intensity of organised internal conflict. The latter measure has deteriorated as a result of increased levels of political polarisation within the US political system.

Europe remains the most peaceful region in the world, with eight of the 10 most peaceful countries coming from this region. However, while 21 of the 34 countries improved, the average peace score did not change notably due to the substantial deterioration in Turkey, the impact of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Nice, and Paris, and deteriorating relations between Russia and its Nordic neighbours.

MENA is the least peaceful region in the world for the fifth successive year. Saudi Arabia, followed by Libya, recorded the largest deteriorations in the region. Saudi Arabia fell because of its involvement in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts and increased terrorist activity, mainly conducted by Daesh and its affiliates, while the fall in Libya's score was due to an increased level of internal conflict.

The indicator that registered the largest improvement was the number, duration and role in external conflicts. This was mainly due to many countries winding down their involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. While in most cases the withdrawal of troops occurred some years ago, the indicator lags in order to capture the lingering effects of conflict. The indicator measuring political terror also significantly improved in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA. There were also general reductions in the number of homicides per 100,000 people and the level of violent crime.

Of the three GPI domains, both militarisation and safety and security improved. However, there was a deterioration in the ongoing conflict domain, owing to an increase in the intensity of conflicts in the MENA region.

For the full GPI 2017 report, including 10-year trends analysis and the latest figures on the economic cost of violence, click here.