Key Points:

New Zealand has been placed second behind Norway in an inaugural Global Peace Index launched in London overnight.

The Economist Intelligence Unit was commissioned by a group of businessmen, academics and peace institutions to rank 121 nations according to their relative state of peace.

The index was comprised of 24 indicators, ranging from a nation's level of military expenditure to its relations with neighbouring countries and the level of respect for human rights.

"New Zealand's lofty position in the Global Peace Index (GPI) partly reflects its lack of internal and external conflicts and its very good relations with neighbouring countries, namely Australia and fellow member states of the Pacific Island Forum," the GPI reports says.

The report said New Zealand's diplomatic and economic links with Australia had been underpinned since 1983 by the Closer Economic Relations agreement.

It said the nation's political scene was stable and the index gave New Zealand very low scores on the likelihood of violent demonstrations and the number of homicides.

"However, violent crime is higher than in Norway and the number of jailed population is considerably higher than the four Nordic nations surveyed."

The report noted New Zealand's military expenditure as a percentage of GDP was low and notably lower than Australia.

"New Zealand's ability to play a security role within the Pacific region was nevertheless demonstrated in July 2003, when it sent 35 policemen and 230 military personnel to the Solomon Islands as part of a 2225-strong Australian led peacekeeping force."

Prime Minister Helen Clark said New Zealand's high ranking on the index recognised the nation's long-standing contribution to international peacekeeping.

"New Zealand is a significant contributor to both UN-led and regional peacekeeping missions.

"New Zealand has played its part in promoting peace and prosperity. We have deployed forces to restore stability in Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Bougainville, Afghanistan and other troubled places around the world."

She said the hosting of the Alliance of Civilisations High Level Symposium last week and the Waitangi Regional Interfaith Dialogue this week were examples of the positive role New Zealand was taking to encourage inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding and co-operation.

"Our firm commitment to international disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, in particular our strong stance on nuclear disarmament, are key elements of New Zealand policy.

"Our principled stance contributes to New Zealand's reputation as a world leader in peace and security" Miss Clark said.

The top 25 on the Global Peace Index:

1 Norway
2 New Zealand
3 Denmark
4 Ireland
5 Japan
6 Finland
7 Sweden
8 Canada
9 Portugal
10 Austria
11 Belgium
12 Germany
13 Czech Republic
14 Switzerland
15 Slovenia
16 Chile
17 Slovakia
18 Hungary
19 Bhutan
20 Netherlands
21 Spain
22 Oman
23 Hong Kong
24 Uruguay
25 Australia