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What Does It Take to Be Among the World's Most Peaceful Countries?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The United States is one of the world's least peaceful countries, and it's not just because of lax gun laws or tragic shootings.

The Institute for Economics and Peace [IEP], a New York based think tank,' says that the U.S. is rather unpeaceful because it actually exports violence beyond its borders. It recently ranked America, 100th out of 162 countries, in its 7th annual Global Peace Index.

The IEP's Peace Index looks at how each country fares across 21 indicators that include homicide rates, levels of internal conflict, political instability and how much a country spends on its military, relative to its income.

Despite having homicide rates that are higher than those of other developed countries, the U.S. does fairly well in domestic "peace indicators," as it has relatively low levels of violent crime and there is also a low likelihood of violent demonstrations breaking out in the country. But "external peace indicators" drag the country down in the IEP rankings. These include the amount of weapons you sell to other countries, how many wars your country is involved in, and the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal.

So what does it take, to become a peaceful country, according to the IEP? Here are the 10 most peaceful nations in the IEP's Global Peace Index for 2013.


This nation of 300,000 people, is "free from conflict," according to the IEP report. Its expenditures on weapons are minimal, as there is no standing army. Iceland also came atop the rankings thanks to its small prison population. Iceland only has 47 prisoners per 100,000 residents, so in total, the country has less than 150 inmates. In contrast the U.S. has 716 prisoners per every 100,000 people, and millions of inmates as we all know.


In 2012, Denmark experienced a "slight increase" in terrorist activity in according to the IEP, but it also reduced weapons imports, which helped it land second place in the Global Peace Index. IEP notes that Denmark is taking some major steps to downsize its military, reducing its fleet of F16 fighter jets from 48 planes to 30. Denmarks homicide rate of 1 murder per every 100,000 residents is just a fifth of the United States' rate.


The Kiwis also cancelled the purchase of fighter jets in order to focus on economic priorities. The country's prison population is relatively high according to IEP, at 194 inmates per every 100,000 people, but New Zealand got some points for maintaining good relations with its neighbors. It is currently negotiating a "common border" agreement with Australia. Could you imagine a "common border" deal between the U.S. and Mexico?


Violent crime is extremely low in Austria according to IEP, and military spending is also tiny, at 0.8 percent of the GDP. In contrast, U.S. military expenditures are equivalent to 4.7 percent of America's GDP.


Curiously for a "top ten" country Switzerland has a large military industry, and its weapons exports per capita are among the largest in Europe. However, a law that stops Swiss companies from exporting weapons to countries that are embroiled in internal conflicts helped Switzerland to do better in this year's peace index. Internally, the country is very tranquil, with extremely low levels of violent crime.


Japan's constitution prevents its defense forces from developing "war potential," which means that Japan is not a military threat to its neighbors nowadays. Tensions with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands however, meant that Japan ranked lowly in "external" peace indicators, particularly in the category called "relations with neighboring countries." However, when it comes to "internal" peace Japan is strong. The country only has 55 prisoners per every 100,000 people and gun purchasing laws are extremely strict.


Like Austria, Finland is also looking at ways to cut defense spending. This northern European country, wedged between Russia and Sweden, has not been part of any international conflicts since World War II.


When it comes to hockey Canadians may be rough. But Canadians do not seem to be keen on military spending, their government has actually cut the army's budget by 22 percent since 2010. Military expenditure which is equivalent to 1 percent of GDP, is far smaller than that of the U.S., which spends 4.7 percent of GDP on its military. Canada's homicide rate is just one third of the United States', and strict gun control laws, also make it harder for Canadians to purchase these weapons.


Sweden has less than 1 murder, per every 100,000 residents. The country registered 9,200 robberies in 2011, while in that same year, the US tallied more than 350,000 robberies. So domestically, Sweden is very safe, but it is one of Europe's largest weapons exporters, so this has somewhat pulled it down in the IEP rankings.


Belgium gets points in the Global Peace Index, because it is a frequent contributor to UN and NATO peacekeeping missions. However, political divisions between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking Belgians, have increased the prospects of political instability, which is another category in the IEP's rankings.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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