Crime, Mass Incarceration Damage U.S. Global Peace Ranking

The U.S. ranked 103rd out of 163 in a global assessment of the most peaceful nations in the world, which estimated the economic impact of violence on the global economy totaled $13.6 trillion last year.

The 10th annual study published on Wednesday by the Institute for Economics and Peace scored nations based on 23 factors, including the number of casualties from terrorism and conflicts in that country, the number of murders per capita of the population and the ratio of military spending to gross domestic product.

America’s murder rate and military spending are higher than average among nations surveyed, including Canada, but the high U.S. incarceration rate was the biggest single drawback in the study’s assessment. The national imprisonment rate was 471 prisoners per 100,000 residents as of 2014. The U.S. stockpile of nuclear and heavy weapons also counted against its ranking as a peaceful nation.

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Aubrey Fox, executive director for the U.S. office of the Institute for Economics and Peace, says that despite diplomatic progress made with Iran and Cuba, the U.S. ranking declined to 103 from 94.

“The issues that bring down the peace score of the United States include having more than 20 percent of the world’s prisoners but only 5 percent of the world’s population, our access to small arms and the number external conflicts we are involved in,” Fox says. “We define peace as not the absence of war, but the absence of violence and fear of violence. It’s not a moral judgment about incarceration, but to have lots of people in prison and jail is an indication of violence in a society.”

The global economic impact of violence of $13 trillion was equivalent to 13 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, according to researchers, who added that violence during the past decade had an impact of $137 trillion. Violence in the U.S. last year cost Americans more than $2 trillion.

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Syria’s ongoing civil war earned it the ranking of the least peaceful country, followed by South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Battle deaths from conflicts in nations including these are at a 25-year high, according to the researchers and the rate of refugees fleeing violence is the highest in 60 years.

Iceland ranked as the most peaceful nation, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and Portugal.

Steve Killelea, executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace said in a news release that peace declined in 79 nations, outpacing the efforts to improve peace in 81 countries. The conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, home to failed states such as Syria and Libya, are the primary threat to world peace, he said.

“External parties are increasingly becoming more involved and the potential for indirect or ‘war by proxy’ between nation states is rising. This was already evident in Syria with the conflict between the Assad regime and multiple non-state actors, and is now spilling into countries such as Yemen. There is a broader proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and more recently both U.S. and Russia have increased their level of involvement.”

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The majority of terrorism occurred in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but only 23 percent of countries surveyed did not experience a terrorist incident, including in Europe, where deaths from terrorism have more than doubled during the past five years. The number of refugees also doubled to approximately 60 million people between 2007 and 2016.

Tom Risen is a technology and business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at

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