ABU DHABI // The UAE is the 40th most peaceful country in the world, and the third most peaceful in the Gulf region, according to a survey of 144 nations released yesterday. New Zealand and Denmark topped the rankings, released by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a research centre that looks at the relationship between economics and peace. Afghanistan and Iraq were named the least peaceful.
"Many people's perception of the Middle East is that it is a violent place, but the presence of Qatar, Oman and the UAE towards the top of the table shows otherwise," said Steve Killelea, the Australian businessman behind the index, which is collated and calculated by the Economist Intelligence Unit and endorsed by the World Bank and the OECD. A broadly peaceful world was necessary for humanity to face up to global challenges such as climate change, Mr Killelea said.
"Unless the world is peaceful there will not be the cohesion needed to solve these problems," he said. In the index, peace is defined as an absence of violence, with more emphasis on violence that occurs within countries, such as murder, than wars between nation states, Mr Killelea said. Qatar, tied for 16th place, was the most peaceful country in the Middle East because of its high per capita income, low homicide rate, low jail population and low military spending, Mr Killelea said. Oman, in 21st place, was seen as politically less stable than Qatar, he said.
The UAE tied with Bhutan to rank just below Vietnam and one place ahead of Kuwait. Its ranking has been consistent in the three years of the survey; it was 42nd out of 140 nations last year and 38th out of 121 in 2007. The UAE was ranked lower than Qatar and Oman because it had more people employed in its internal security forces, a higher proportion of people in jail and spent more on its armed forces, Mr Killelea said.
In April, a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found that the UAE was the world's third-biggest arms importer between 2004 and 2008, after China and India. This was explained by General Khaled Abdullah al Bu-Ainnain, a former UAE Air Force chief who is currently president of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, who said the UAE was simply seeking to protect itself rather than project an aggressive stance. He added that the country's armed forces had just finished a process of modernisation.
Dr Mustafa Alami, security analyst at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said: "As an indicator, such spending is meaningless. The UAE is as stable as Qatar, but Qatar spends less on defence because it has a US military command centre on its land." But Mr Killelea said even the perception of a threat affected a country's peacefulness. "We are not making moral judgments," he said. "Most of us want to live in a peaceful society. If you have a strong military it shows either that you want to be aggressive or that you have a perception of a threat against you."
The rankings also showed a strong correlation between per capita income and peace, Mr Killelea said. The top 10 countries were all highly developed nations, including the whole of Scandinavia. A team of US economists has calculated that violence costs the global economy US$7.2 trillion (Dh26.4 trillion) every year. By contrast, business related to violence, such as the arms trade, is worth about $3.1 trillion, according to figures from SIPRI and the CIA World Factbook.
"Peaceful conditions allow business to flourish," Mr Killelea said. "In the past, nations invaded other countries and took the assets to better lifestyles at home. But the proliferation of small arms has made war economically unviable. Now business is getting more and more interested in peace." Prosperity, however, did not significantly help the US in the rankings. America was placed 83rd because of the availability of weapons and a murder rate of about 20,000 people each year, although it was up from 97th last year.
Mr Killelea, who found commercial success in IT, became interested in peace after visiting war zones in Africa. "What do we really know about peace?" he asked. "We understand peace very badly. Overall, the world is becoming more peaceful, but we need peace to deal with issues surrounding climate change, sustainability, water, biodiversity and overpopulation. So it's a mixed picture." firstname.lastname@example.org