By Mark Tokola
On June 17th, the Institute for Economics and Peace released its 2015 edition of the “Global Peace Index.” This annual publication began in 2008, which makes it useful for tracking both global trends and individual country’s performances. The headlines of the 2015 report are: (1) the averaged level of violence across the globe has been holding steady over the past few years but has differentiated. That is to say, peaceful areas (e.g. Europe and North America) are increasingly peaceful but violence in conflict areas (e.g. the Middle East) has become worse, and (2) the number of refugees and internally-displaced persons is the highest it has been since 1945. The report also highlights a drop in violent conflicts between countries, but an increasing number of deaths from terrorism: 20,000 in 2014, over 80 percent of which occurred in five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. The full report can be viewed and downloaded at www.economicsandpeace.org.
For Korea watchers, the Global Peace Index provides specific statistical information for each of the 162 countries it surveys, including North Korea and South Korea. The Institute for Economics and Peace believes that “peace” is measurable and traceable. It gathers data from internationally recognized sources to populate its 23 indicators, based on three broad themes: the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict, and the degree of militarization. Taking all of that into account, South Korea is the 42nd most peaceful country in the world (out of 162), while North Korea, despite a lack of involvement in either international conflict or civil war, is in the bottom ten at 153rd. [In 2014, Syria was the most violent country in the world. Iceland was the world’s most peaceful, and has been every year the Index has been published.]
The details below the top numbers are instructive. The Index ranks North Korea as the second most militarized country in the world, behind only Israel, but Israel has become 4 percent less militarized since 2008, while North Korea has become 5 percent more militarized. The Institute’s measurement of militarization takes into account expenditure, number of armed personnel, and weapons capabilities. For a country that objective observers would assess as possessing few genuine external threats, and no external security commitments, the degree of militarization seems pathological. South Korea ranks 33rd on the militarization index, behind countries such as Norway and Morocco.
Another measurement within the Global Index is the cost of violence containment as a percentage of GDP. Violence containment includes not only military expenditure, but the money governments must spend dealing with internal conflict, crime, violent demonstrations, internally displaced populations, and other threats to peace and order. Unsurprisingly, the three countries with the highest cost of violence containment in 2014 were war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. North Korea bizarrely ranks fourth, ahead of countries experiencing civil conflict such as Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Zimbabwe. This can only be explained by the expense to the North Korean regime of its policy of complete suppression of its own population along with its desire to intimidate its neighbors.
So far, we have been looking at North Korea’s current ranking, but what does the Global Peace Index tell us about trends? Are Kim Jong-un’s purported reforms improving North Korea? According to the Global Peace Index’s data, tracked from 2008 to 2015, North Korea has a rising homicide rate, a higher incarceration rate, more political instability, more political terror, higher military expenditure, and worse relations with its neighboring countries than it did seven years ago. Quantifiably, the behavior of the North Korean government is bad and getting worse. With South Korea’s indicators heading in the opposite direction, the two countries are becoming increasingly different, making a “soft landing” unification more difficult to envision unless North Korea reduces it militarization and ends the repression of its own people.
Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.
Photo from Expert Infantry’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.