Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A desolation called ‘peace index’

THE policy entrepreneurs, people who crunch statistics and conjure images and sell them to the world, are at it again.

This time, they’ve produced the “peace index,” ranking countries across the world according to their “peacefulness” or their propensity to avoid war. As usual, the Philippines is a victim, ranking 100th out of 121 countries.

Most of those criticisms have a grain of truth, but many of them are utterly false. One example is Heritage Foundation, which accused the Philippines of “corruption in the implementation of tsunami-related aid,” when, in fact, there was no tsunami aid simply because the Philippines was not affected by the disaster that brought destruction to much of Asia in December 2004.

Most of this statistical crunching is done by armchair researchers who scour the Internet and harvest data from official but second-hand reports to conjure their own version of reality without going to the country they are describing. Worse, some outfits hardly hire or consult local experts who can help them understand the nuances and the granularity of information that they need to give a balanced perspective. And voila! Before you know it, they have a cool “product” to sell to the world.

Now there’s this new project called the “peace index”—hiding behind the respectable façade of the Economist Intelligence Unit, the University of Sydney, and the names Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Jimmy Carter, who endorsed it.

Sadly, the project has the look of the same entrepreneurial venture that lacks logic, coherence and, probably, accuracy. And it’s worse for us because it’s hurting what’s left of our image abroad as a people.

The peace index ranks countries’ “peacefulness,” using indicators like measures of ongoing domestic and international conflict, social safety and security, and measures of militarization.

Top 10 countries include Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Portugal and Austria. Those in the bottom 10 include Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria, Russia, Israel, Sudan and Iraq.

In a field of 121 countries, the outfit ranks the Philippines 100th. Are we really that warmongering as a people?

The tragedy is that not everybody in our midst is questioning the results. We seem to assume it’s accurate. Some people are even using the results as a spiked whip to beat our backs.

Since last year, enterprising groups that are regularly making rankings have painted the Philippines with a declining competitiveness, with poor infrastructure, corrupt, economically unfree and with poor environmental index together. We’re not saying all of these groups are wrong in their assessment, but there’s a lot of unverified or recklessly used information out there. Now another outfit has practically labeled us as a warmongering country.

Examples of curiosities: the ranking shows that Iran—a country accused of supplying weapons to terrorists in Iraq and Lebanon to blow up civilians, a country whose leaders have threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth with nukes, a country that recently initiated a shooting war with Israel through its protégé Hezbollah, whose ruling elite regularly round up intellectuals and activists, a country that is in war posture with the US—is ranked 97! That’s a low rank, yes, but higher than the Philippines!

And yes, based on the “peace index,” Yemen (ranked 95) is even more “peace-loving” than us despite the fact that this country had civil wars in 1979-1989, in 1994 and in the 2000s. A few days ago, cable news kept reporting that six tourists had died in a terrorist attack. Despite the low-intensity conflict we had, we never had violent spasms of civil strife experienced in this country.

The Yugoslav wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the breakup of the country into several states, is still fresh in the world’s collective memory. But the “peace index” is now telling us that the world should forget about it because these countries are now relatively “peaceful.” They are peaceful now and have low military spending because peacekeeping forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are still there, escorting young children to schools.

According to the peace index, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rank is 75th.

Methodology-wise, the peace index has a fatal flaw. It doesn’t consider the degree of political freedoms in the computation. Hence, it produced a weird result wherein repressive and authoritarian countries rank high: China, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Zambia and Vietnam. The unintended message is that repression is good for as long as it creates “peace.” What kind of peace is that? It’s one that reminds us of what Roman historian Tacitus said of the Roman Army: “They created a desolation and called it peace.”

The assumption about peace is also a bit naïve and hypocritical. For instance, countries and economies like Japan, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong rank high. These countries can indeed feel “peaceful” because they don’t have to build huge armed forces. Someone else—Uncle Sam—is taking care of their economic security. Their oil, including that of the new economic powerhouse China, passes through the “SOC” or sea lanes of communications (Sunda, Lombok and Malacca Straits) that is secured by the United States Pacific Command.

Actually, about 80 percent of the world’s oil passes through SOC. When your oil is safe and secure from terrorists and pirates, you would have the luxury of feeling “peaceful.” And yes, some peaceniks out there might even think that you are the most “peaceful” country on earth, thus elevating your moral standing in the community of nations.

Finally, the index is inconsistent. It ranks Israel among the least peaceful, worse even than the Philippines, and for a reason. It’s on constant war footing with its neighbors Lebanon, Syria and Iran, and the Palestinian question continues to be the main hurdle to Middle East peace. One might expect, therefore, that the peace index might also cluster Israel with its enemies. But surprise, surprise!—Syria and Iran are ranked higher. So Israel is a warmonger while the countries it exchanges lethal ordnance with are “peaceful.”

Yes, the idea of having a “peace index” is a good one. But at the very least, those doing it should ensure it doesn’t sacrifice the truth, common sense and historical facts.

(Note: originally drafted as editorial for BusineMirror, 5 July 2007.)


Admin said...

hello kuya...

Never give up...

Philippines will soon rise again...


Neil said...

I was wondering why the Philippines always rank low on this kind of "surveys".

"Armchair researchers", huh?

A good one, Sir. :)

Dave Llorito said...

"I was wondering why the Philippines always rank low on this kind of "surveys".

"Armchair researchers", huh?"

it's because of the bad press that we are getting internationally. plus our own local press has mastered the art of bashing the pinoy. of course, im from media myself and im part of the blame. hahaha. but there's a wholesale negativity out there even among the overseas pinoys that we need to address.