Sunbathers in Norway.
Francois Lenoir  /  Reuters file
Looks peaceful: A couple sunbathes on a frozen fjord in the Norwegian Arctic town of Longyearbyen.
updated 5/31/2007 7:52:22 AM ET 2007-05-31T11:52:22

LONDON — Japan, which only 65 years ago was seen as an aggressive war-mongerer, has been ranked as the world's fifth most peaceful nation in a report launched Wednesday by international businessman Steve Killelea in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Poling behind Norway, New Zealand, Denmark and Ireland, Japan is the only Group of Eight industrialized country to fall in the top 10 of the Global Peace Index — the first study of its kind to compare peace on a worldwide level.

The United States was ranked in 96th place out of the 121 countries, just ahead of Iran.

The ranking uses 24 indicators, including the number of external and internal wars fought, the level of respect for human rights and the import and export of major conventional weapons, in attempt to provide a quantitative measure of peace that is comparable over time.

"Japan is politically stable and measures of societal safety and security such as the level of violent crime, the likelihood of violent demonstrations and the number of homicides receive very low scores," the report states accounting for the positioning of the country.

Killelea — who is an advocate of peace as a tool to "solve the major challenges that the world faces" — believes that Japan can provide hope and optimism to countries further down the rankings that there can be "light at the end of the tunnel."

Lesson for nations
"When you look at the top 10, there are three nations, Japan, Germany and Ireland, which were all embroiled in conflict less than a century ago, so the lesson is that nations can change," he explained at the press launch of the index.

"I think that nations that are in conflict today have, in Japan, an example of how they can change over time but this is just a starting point — we need to understand why this change happens and then we can promote an environment of peace," Killelea added.

The report conveners were quick to point out, however, that nations could slide away from peacefulness, just as they could edge towards it and that Japan's steps to normalize its military could see the country falling down the rankings.

"Certainly if Japan deployed more troops outside of the United Nations mandate and made its military more sophisticated those things would count against it in the peace index and its scoring would change," said Robin Bew, editorial director for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

U.S. loses out
Remarking on the United States' low standing in the index, Bew said it was paying the price for extending its militarization beyond its own nation and creating a "pact Americana."

"The U.S. allows other countries, such as Japan, to shelter under its military umbrella and to perhaps spend less and have less sophisticated military machinery than they otherwise would," he explained.

"You could argue that to some extent America is being driven down the rankings after having taken on this role of global policeman and that has actually allowed other nations, notably including Japan, to score rather better on the rankings than it otherwise would," Bew added, emphasizing the often-ambiguous status of so-called peaceful countries.

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