Last week saw the launch of a new global #softpower report, ranking the UK at the top of a 30-country index. Compiled by Portland, Facebook and ComRes, the report is described by Joseph Nye (who coined the term in 1990) as “the clearest picture to date of global soft power”, and has ranked countries in six categories (enterprise, culture, digital, government, engagement, education).
There are quite a few of these indices around now, with varying methodologies – nevertheless, this is the first to incorporate data on government’s online impact and international polling. Who’s at the top of the tables isn’t really surprising (the top 5 countries – UK, Germany, US, France, Canada – are identical to the top 5 in the Anholt-GFK Roper Nation Brand Index, but with a slight reordering of ranking). The US, Switzerland and France topped the specific categories, and although not first place in any of the categories, the UK ranked highest overall, reflecting its strength in culture, education, engagement & digital. More on the UK later.
What is really surprising is that China finishes last. Following a 2007 directive from Premier Hu Jintao, China has been investing heavily in soft power assets (such as the Xinhua news agency, aid/ development projects), at a time when others have been paring back their ambitions. Nevertheless, the impact of this investment isn’t borne out in the results, likely hindered by negative perceptions of China’s foreign policy, questionable domestic policies and a weakness in digital diplomacy. China came out strongest in the culture, likely reflective of the many Confucius Institutes dotted around the globe.
There are a few other interesting nuggets:
· Broader power trends are increasing the need for soft power – 3 factors driving global affairs away from bilateral diplomacy and hierarchies and toward a much more complex world of networks:
1. Rapid diffusion of power between states
2. Erosion of traditional power structures
3. Mass urbanisation