We are living in an increasingly complex multi-dimensional and interdependent world. Power has become more diffuse, moving from West to East, as well as away from governments altogether as more non-state actors leverage international influence. This is in large part due to the digital revolution, which has eroded national borders, creating challenges and opportunities. It has also allowed citizens to mobilise in new ways, and build bridges across geographical divides.
What does this mean for global affairs? Old-world hard power can no longer influence outcomes and achieve foreign policy goals as some might desire. Instead, it is the ability to encourage collaboration and build networks and relationships which is the new currency.
As Professor Joseph Nye, who first coined the phrase “soft power” 27 years ago said, “power with others can be more effective than power over others”. But while there is a growing enthusiasm for soft power in global capitals, it has not always been matched by the understanding and capability required to deploy it successfully.
This is the aim of The Soft Power 30 index. It combines objective data and international polling to build what Professor Nye has described as “the clearest picture of global soft power to date.”
Our 2017 findings show that European soft power is recovering. North America’s capability is on the decline, while Asia is on the rise.
- Bolstered by a pair of resounding election victories for Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche party, France has shot to the top of the rankings, leaping Canada, Germany, USA, and UK to claim the top spot.
- The new Trump administration has proven to be a drag on American soft power, as global public opinion on the US has soured – falling by nearly 10%.
- As “America First” translates to less global leadership from the US, China is taking up the mantel of champion for globalisation and even environmentalism, and its ranking has jumped three places to 25.
- Brexit has dented Britain’s soft power in Europe, but overall, it maintains its position as overall runner-up behind France.
- Three out of the four Asian countries in the top-30 saw their scores increase. China and Japan have moved up the rankings every year since our first report.
- Brazil, the only Latin American representative in the index, has fallen five places, suggesting that the Rio Olympics failed to mask the deeper societal and economic issues the country faces.
- A number of other Latin American states linger just outside the top 30, showing there may be potential for the region to rise over the course of the next year.
This year, in order to deliver greater practical insights on soft power, public engagement, and digital diplomacy, the report draws on a new partnership with the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy – the world’s first academic institution dedicated to the study of public diplomacy. In addition to contributions from experts at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, this report also features thought provoking pieces from current and former diplomats, senior government officials, and NGOs working in foreign policy.
The report then concludes with a final look at the key lessons and trends from the 2017 index, and a look to the year ahead and plans for the 2018 Soft Power 30.
Explore the data on this interactive site, and download the full 2017 Soft Power 30 report here.
Jonathan is the author of The Soft Power 30 and a specialist in soft power, public diplomacy, cultural relations, and place branding. Based in Singapore, he is Portland’s General Manager for Asia.