The United States is more hawk than dove and heading toward vulture status, according to the recently launched Global Peace Index (GPI) ranking of 121 countries. Finishing up far back in the pack at No. 96, the United States was deemed less peaceful than Yemen, Cambodia, and Serbia. In particular, America won demerits for the number of prison inmates, size of military, and overseas troop deployments.

The GPI reveals that the United States needs to become both less violent at home and abroad while increasing real security measures on all fronts. To move from hawk to dove, the United States needs to change its feathers. In a world so hostilely disposed toward America, such “transfeatheration” not only makes sense but is vital for national security.

Behind the GPI

The GPI is weighted 60% on internal measures of violence and 40% on external measures of violent activities beyond borders. The subtler measures concern what a nation funds, and does not fund.

While there may be greater freedom in the United States than in many higher-ranking nations, it earned the worst score possible on the domestic front with approximately 497 inmates per 100,000 people. The United States has 5% of the world’s population and, with 2.2 million people behind bars, 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Ease of access to firearms, which puts the United States on a par with Israel, Russia, and Iran and contributes to the swelling prison population, also brought down the U.S. ranking.

The external factors that plunked the United States in the Global Peace Index’s bottom quartile include the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the burgeoning $613 billion military budget, and the nation’s vast weapons industry. The United States also earned the worst rating for the large number of non-UN deployments, a bad rating for the number of external and internal conflicts fought, and a bad rating for the transfer of major conventional weapons to other countries. The Guantanamo detentions have not helped the U.S. ranking when it comes to respect for human rights.


Transfeatheration requires a vision of security not solely dependent on the hard power of the prison system, military might, and punitive measures. Here are a couple examples of how the United States can move up in the GPI ranking, starting with domestic factors.

Two weeks ago, in response to the Virginia Tech massacre shooter’s ability to buy a firearm despite having been judged mentally ill and dangerous, the National Criminal Instant Background Check System Improvement Act passed the House. When passed by the full Congress, this law will provide states with grants and incentives to make all disqualifying records searchable in background checks. Although a step forward in accountability regarding firearms regulation, the law still does not control the supply of guns or the level of violence in U.S. society.

At the level of foreign policy, the Senate Armed Services Committee is currently writing its version of the FY 2008 defense authorization bill and is expected to make appropriations by the end of the summer. Previously, in its version of the bill, the House defeated both an amendment to permit U.S. bases in Iraq as well as an amendment to increase ballistic missile spending. Also, funding for the “Reliable Replacement Warhead,” a dangerous new generation of nuclear weapons programs, was cut by $45 million. Finally, an amendment to investigate the status of Guantanamo Bay detainees passed.

Additionally, the House just passed the State Foreign Operations Appropriations bill and sent it to the Senate. The bill provides for greater spending on public diplomacy, $6.5 billion in spending on global health, and modest cuts in foreign military financing. These are incremental steps, to be sure, but they point in the direction of greater diplomacy, dialogue, and development. The GPI doesn’t measure these attributes of national policy. But if the U.S. government continues in this direction, not only will it rebuild its reputation in the world, it will no longer rank so embarrassingly low on the Global Peace Index.

Gretchen M. Griener is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason Univeristy and a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus.

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