Iceland ranks as the most peaceful country on Earth. Here's why the US ranks so low

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - DECEMBER 9, 2019: A vintage globe of the world for sale in an antique shop showing the Indian Ocean and surrounding countries including India, the eastern coast of Africa and countries in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia.

The United States became less peaceful over the past year, thanks in large part to an increase in homicides and Americans’ own perceptions about rising crime.

The Institute for Economics & Peace 2023 Global Peace Index, the world’s leading measure of world peace, ranks the United States at 131 out of 163 countries. That’s two spots below the 2022 ranking of 129.

Overall, the world became slightly less peaceful, dropping 0.42% since 2022. It’s the 13th time in 15 years that the world has seen a decline in peacefulness. Peace scores improved in 84 countries and dropped in 79 – and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had the biggest impact on world peace. 

INTERACT: Tap on the map for a quick glance at world's most peaceful and least peaceful nations:

Why the US is ranked so low on the peace index

The U.S. peace index score dropped slightly over the past year, by 0.38%. This is the eighth consecutive year the U.S. has seen a decrease in peacefulness.

In previous years, civil unrest was the biggest factor in lower peace scores. Violent demonstrations were down 10% in the U.S. over the past year, but the country recorded the fourth largest overall increase in its homicide rate – and a notable decrease in how safe Americans feel in society. The homicide rate in America – more than six per 100,000 people – is over six times higher than most western European countries, according to the index.

A "Memorial Garden" filled with flowers, photos and mementos sits outside the Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue on July 14, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by John Normile/Getty Images)

Canada, the only other country in the index’s North America region, is ranked as the 11th most peaceful country on Earth. Mexico, which is grouped in with Central America and the Caribbean, ranks 136. 

Threats to peace in the United States

The increasing economic and military rivalry between the U.S. and China is "likely to shape geopolitics over at least the next two decades," the index’s authors wrote. China is ranked 80th on the index.,

US President Joe Biden meets with China's President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 15, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Although the U.S. has pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, the country is supplying considerable military support to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. The U.S. is also monitoring the potential for a Chinese blockade or invasion of Taiwan, which would prompt U.S. military intervention.

READ MORE: Washington won't stand for 'coercion and bullying' from China, US defense secretary says

According to the GPI, the US continues to house military bases in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, and South and Central America. 

World’s most peaceful countries

Here are the 10 most peaceful countries in 2023, according to the Global Peace Index:

Downtown Reykjavik sits in the afternoon light on April 5, 2016 in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Iceland
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • Austria
  • Singapore
  • Portugal
  • Slovenia
  • Japan
  • Switzerland

Iceland has remained the most peaceful country in the world every year since the Global Peace Index began 17 years ago, but its overall score declined by 4% this year because of an increase in homicides and the country’s first ever recorded terrorist activity. Four people were charged with plotting terrorist attacks against the Icelandic parliament and several prominent Icelandic politicians.

Geneva, Switzerland (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Europe remains the most peaceful region in the world, with seven of the 10 most peaceful countries, though the region’s overall peacefulness deteriorated in the last year. 

World’s least peaceful countries

Here are the least peaceful countries in 2023, according to the Global Peace Index:

  • Afghanistan
  • Yemen
  • Syria
  • South Sudan
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Iraq
  • Mali

Afghanistan remains the least peaceful country in the world, though conflict has "dropped considerably" since the U.S. withdrew its troops in August 2021. The Middle East and North Africa region remains the least peaceful region in the world for the eighth consecutive year, the report says, despite marked improvements since 2020. The region houses four of the 10 least peaceful countries on Earth. 

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline bra

Other key findings

There are 91 countries in the world at least partially involved in some kind of external conflict. That’s up from 58 in 2008. Forty-seven countries reported at least one death from conflict over the past year.

"In the majority of conflicts, countries were offering support to an existing government in its conflict with an internal armed rebel or terrorist group," the report says.

READ MORE: American soldier facing military disciplinary action flees to North Korea while touring village

Political instability deteriorated in 59 countries and improved in 22. The largest deteriorations were seen in Israel, El Salvador, Malawi and Burkina Faso.

Ukrainian soldier waves Ukrainian national flag while standing on top of an armoured personnel carrier (APC) on April 8, 2022 in Hostomel, Ukraine. (Photo by Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

Ukraine, which has been fighting Russia’s invasion since February 2022, experienced the largest deterioration in overall score both regionally and globally.

READ MORE: What are cluster munitions? Why the US is now willing to provide them to Ukraine

The global economic impact of violence was $16.5 trillion in 2021, according to the index. That’s 10.9% of global GDP, or $2,117 per person. 

How countries are ranked

The index looks at 23 indicators and measures the state of peace across three domains:

  • Societal safety and security
  • Ongoing domestic and international conflict
  • Militarization

It’s compiled annually by the Institute for Economics & Peace, a nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney, Australia.