Opinion/Analysis: I’m Pretty Sure the U.S. Is More Peaceful Than Myanmar

The United States has experienced a tumultuous last decade. It’s endured an historic financial crisis, prolonged government dysfunction, eroding trust in public institutions, a farcical presidential election, and Twitter. No society should have to suffer any of these. But gaze upon the world for some perspective: It could be worse. Though not by much, says the Australia-based Institute for Economics & Peace. Its 2017 Global Peace Index “ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness.” Based on this complex measure of national safety, security, and stability, the United States ranks 114, making it less “peaceful” than Burkina Faso, whose most recent attempted coup was in September 2015; Cuba, from where the number of people entering through a U.S. port of entry has increased by more than 100 percent since 2014; and Myanmar, which is under U.N. investigation for army atrocities committed against its minority Muslim population. Suffice it to say this study needs some context before it can be interpreted as a harbinger for the US of A. The GPI document states: “The US’s score has been dragged down largely because of a deterioration in two indicators: level of perceived criminality in society and the intensity of organised internal conflict. The latter measure has deteriorated because of the increased levels of political polarisation within the US political system.” A team of academics isn’t the only group to identify the latter problem. Our own Pentagon has, as well. “The lack of political unity in America [and] [t]he lack of a fundamental friendliness” are what worry new Secretary of Defense James Mattis most in his new position, he recently told the New Yorker. Mutual hostility clearly impedes the political process, and perhaps endangers it. But it’s not what made the country peace-averse in the GPI to begin with. Far from it. We were 103 in the 2016 report, 94 the year before, and 101 in 2014. We were 99 in 2013, right after the relatively sober contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. What gives? There are numerous factors—23 of them—baked into the index’s score, which runs from one (good) to five (bad). These inputs are weighted and categorized into three “domains”: ongoing domestic and international conflict, societal safety and security, and militarization. Of course, the United States would be expected to score quite high on the latter. (A request to the institute for full data of each of the 23 measures went unreturned.) Militarization is defined as “[i]ndicators of a nation’s military capacity, both in terms of the economic resources committed to the military and support for multilateral operations.” On a scale of one to five, you’d expect the States to register a 15. But we settle for a 3.045: fifth-to-last, ahead of Syria, North Korea, Russia, and Israel. Something tells me the U.S. score of three-plus is less ominous than Syria’s and North Korea’s, and quite different from Israel’s. And how to interpret ours outside a vacuum? Does possessing a nuclear weapon, which earns an automatic five on the “nuclear and heavy weapons capabilities” rating, make Washington equally less peaceful than Pyongyang? It’s tough to know where the United States sits on other aspects of militarization without seeing a spreadsheet. But one could envision a negative correlation between world peace and the U.S. peace tally were the country to scale back its resources significantly. The United States ranks in the bottom 40 percent of ongoing domestic and international conflict, which incorporates the extent of a country’s involvement and “their role and duration of involvement in conflicts.” Our armed forces have been in Afghanistan for almost 16 years now, and the fight against ISIS is a newer development, including the recent bombing of one of their cave networks using the “mother of all bombs.” Irrespective of the success of these campaigns, it’s logical that terrorism is more a marker of “less peace” than the effort to combat it. And the turmoil of our political system is subjective and relative. The report’s authors themselves write (emphasis mine), “The past year has been a deeply worrying one for the US, with the presidential campaign highlighting the deep divisions within American society. Accordingly, the score for intensity of organised internal conflict has worsened. Data have also shown a declining level of trust in government and other citizens which has generated a deterioration in the score for level of perceived criminality in society.” Attention paid to an intangible problem and “perceptions” of unrest are certainly serious, and the exact issues Mattis identified. This also may not take into full account Russia’s activity in influencing last year’s election. But the vote in 2016, as it always is, was free and fair, and the transfer of power was, well, peaceful. The protest environment is active—but it has produced few instances of actual violence, with the understanding that our heated discourse could encourage more. It is troubling that American politics have become somewhat of a tinderbox. But they are not a conflagration.

This is a follow up to this study we reported on yesterday (scroll down about 13 articles)..  Clearly, that Aussie-based think tank’s study was DEEPLY flawed..  Thanks to Chris Deaton for taking the time to put this op/ed together for some badly needed perspective.

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