CAMERA Op-Ed: Economist’s Bogus ‘Global Peace Index’

Did you know that Israel ranks ahead only of Sudan and Iraq among 121 countries in “peacefulness”? That’s Sudan, where government-related militia commit genocide in the Darfur region, and Iraq, where America and its allies struggle to contain large-scale intra-Muslim slaughter abetted by Iran and al Qaeda.

Did you know that the United States ranks 96th, 38 places behind Libya (58), and even further behind another peace-loving dictatorship, Vietnam (35)?

These ratings come from the first “Global Peace Index,”concocted by the Economist magazine’s Economist Intelligence Unit.

News media from Japan to Estonia, Canada to Tunisia shed professional skepticism to cover the “peace index” as if it were news. “Norway leads peaceful nations; Lists ranks U.S. near bottom; cites crime, war,” declared a headline in the May 31 Washington Times. Two steps from the bottom, Israel (119) immediately trailed that paragon of peacefulness, Vladimir Putin’s Russia (118), Nigeria (117) in danger of fragmenting (again) along tribal, ethnic and religious lines, and crime- and guerrilla-ridden Colombia (116).

Leaving the United States and Israel virtually in the dust were exemplars of domestic and external peace as authoritarian Tunisia (39), divided and dysfunctional Cyprus (51), one-party China (60) and monarchical Jordan (63). Agence France-Presse’s wide-eyed dispatch on the index brought to mind the old computer programer’s acronym, GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

In fact, a technology entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, Australian Steve Killelea, reportedly came up with the “peace index” concept. Big thinkers including ex-president Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Harriet Fulbright of the Fulbright Center are said to have endorsed it.

According to AFP, the Economist Intelligence Unit used criteria including military expenditure, organized crime, levels of violence, access to guns and small explosives, corruption and respect for human rights to devise its index. Among the “findings” were that “income and education are crucial in promoting peace.”

Having a strong, adequately prepared military is synonymous with violence? So, the Economist Intelligence Unit knows better than Vegetius, the fourth century Roman military writer whose observation that “if you want peace, prepare for war,” has been followed by prudent leaders for the past 1,700 years.

The “Global Peace Index” doesn’t seem to distinguish between aggression and self-defense. No wonder Israel rates as so unpeaceful – it insists on defending itself.

The index claims that “engagement in warfare and external conflict” lowered America’s rating. Such a methodology is blind to the unpeaceful situation the United States significantly reversed by armed intervention in Afghanistan. The index purposefully ignores the internal and external violence that was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, not to mention the possibility raised by some critics – that America’s war in Iraq has met difficulty because Coalition forces put too few troops into the early effort to stabilize the country, not too many.

Likewise, the index penalizes the United States for “high levels of incarceration and homicide.” Another failure of intellectual rigor: Increased U.S. incarceration rates in the 1980s and ’90s correlated with decreased homicide rates.

If, as reported, respect for human rights influenced the rankings, again the United States and Israel would be near the top. Compare the index to the State Department Country Reports on Human Rights to understand how fatuous is the work of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

And if “income and education are crucial in promoting peace,” as the index reportedly discovered, then the United States and Israel – home to some of the world’s more comprehensive educational systems and top universities, and higher per capita incomes – should rank much better.

According to the ratings, the three most peaceful countries are Norway, New Zealand, and Denmark. No index need to figure out why. Since 1945 they’ve sheltered internationally under the umbrella of American deterrence organized around NATO and the ANZUS alliances, thus being able to spend less on their militaries; domestically, all three are relatively small, ethnically and religiously homogeneous, lacking hostile neighbors, and sharing post-Enlightenment traditions of comparative tolerance.

Glaring flaws leap from the index as reported by AFP, Reuters and in the organizers’ own press release. One blogger referred to the survey as “voodoo metrics.” Whatever the label, the rankings aren’t news, they’re not even “info-tainment.”

This column was originally published in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent on June 21, 2007.