World continues to be less peaceful, with conflict greatest since post-WWII levels

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The average level of global peacefulness had deteriorated once again, with 56 active conflicts raging around the world – the most since the end of the Second World War, and with fewer conflicts being resolved.

This is according to the recently published Global Peace Index 2024 report, produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP). The 18th edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks 163 states and territories according to their level of peacefulness.

This year’s results recorded the twelfth deterioration in peacefulness in the last 16 years, with 65 countries improving and 97 deteriorating in peacefulness. This is the highest number of countries to deteriorate in peacefulness in a single year since the inception of the index.

Yemen is the least peaceful country in the world in the 2024 GPI, followed by Sudan, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. This is the first year that Yemen has been ranked as the least peaceful country in the world, with the country having fallen 24 places in the rankings since the inception of the index.

The report finds that conflicts are becoming more internationalised, with 92 countries now engaged in a conflict beyond their borders, the most since the inception of the GPI in 2008, complicating negotiation processes for a lasting peace and prolonging conflicts. The internationalisation of conflict is driven by increased great power competition and the rise of middle level powers, who are becoming more active in their regions.

The combination of these factors means that the likelihood of another major conflict is higher than at any time since the inception of the GPI.

Europe is the most peaceful region in the world and is home to eight of the ten most peaceful countries. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remained the world’s least peaceful region. North America recorded the largest average deterioration of all the regions, with significant falls in peacefulness in both Canada and the US. However, despite this deterioration it remains the third most peaceful region globally, behind Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Overall, the IEP found that the world has become less peaceful over the past 16 years, with the average country score deteriorating by 4.5% since the inception of the index in 2008. Some of the largest indicator deteriorations were for external conflicts fought, internal conflicts fought, number of refugees and IDPs, and violent demonstrations (over 95 million people are now either refugees or have been internally displaced because of violent conflict. There are now 16 countries where more than five per cent of the population has been forcibly displaced).

The 2024 GPI says there has been a significant rise in both conflicts and battle deaths in the past two decades, with battle deaths reaching a thirty-year high in 2022. Regional conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war and the Gaza conflict illustrate the devastating human cost and the complexity of modern warfare. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has seen over 2 000 fatalities per month for almost every month in the past two years, while neither side is making significant gains. The Gaza conflict has resulted in over 35 000 deaths since October 2023, resulting in a severe humanitarian crisis. These conflicts are examples of ‘forever wars’, where prolonged violence becomes seemingly endless without clear resolutions, exacerbated by external military support, asymmetric warfare, and geopolitical rivalries.

War in the 21st century is changing as a result of two key trends: changes in military technology and increasing geopolitical competition, the GPI report states. Non-state groups can now engage more effectively with larger states using technologies like drones and improvised explosive devices. The use of drones has surged, with non-state groups increasing drone attacks by over 1 400% since 2018. This shift has made conflicts more complex and harder to resolve.

Geopolitical shifts further complicate global conflict management. The transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a multipolar one has intensified competition and prolonged conflicts. Traditional powers like the US and the EU are stretched thin, limiting their ability to manage global tensions effectively. Meanwhile, emerging powers such as China, Russia, and regional middle powers are increasingly vying for influence in conflict-affected areas around the world.

According to the 2024 GPI, the economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2023 was $19.1 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. This figure is equivalent to 13.5% of the world’s economic activity (gross world product) or $2 380 per person. Military and internal security expenditure accounts for over 74% of the total economic impact of violence, with the economic impact of military spending alone accounting for $8.4 trillion in the past year.

In the ten countries most affected by violence, the economic cost of violence averaged 37.4% of GDP in 2023, compared to just 2.9% for the ten least affected countries. Expenditure on peacebuilding and peacekeeping was $49.6 billion in 2023, less than 0.6% of total military spending in PPP terms.

Many countries have experienced enormous falls in GDP as a result of violent conflict during that time. Ukraine’s economy shrank by an estimated 30 in 2022 as a consequence of the Russian invasion, while some estimates suggest that the Syrian civil war led to a drop of 85% of GDP.