The new soft sell - Issue 39 - Magazine | Monocle

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Over the four years since Monocle launched we have documented the rise of soft power diplomacy – and also the way that national brands and popular cultural icons can be the making of a nation. We have been to Berlin’s Foreign Ministry to see how it manages to marshal German brands and cultural connections to help the country’s cause. We have been to the Itamaraty Palace in Brasília to find out how Brazil is perfecting the art of soft. We have looked at how Israel will come to your aid if you are struck by an earthquake. And we have watched – literally – the growth of state-backed international TV stations, with visits to Russia Today and the BBC’s Farsi service.

That’s why we decided it was time for the first ever Soft Power Survey, a report bringing together years of on-the-ground reporting and also a fresh round of metrics gathering. To broaden our data we have worked with a leading think tank, the Institute for Government.

Over the following pages we reveal the top 25 nations in this inaugural annual survey. We think the results will surprise – they caused some shocks in Boston Place. Some countries, for example, may have soft-power averse governments but are saved by private institutions or cultural icons. Others mix soft and hard power. And there are some intriguing rising soft powers. We look forward to the debate this starts – and to hearing your views and comments.

The soft power boom

It started in lecture halls but soon took to the political stage

Coined 20 years ago by the Harvard ­academic Joseph Nye, soft power has become an ever more ubiquitous term. It has migrated from university lecture halls to the front pages of newspapers, ­becoming a fixture of popular political discourse. Yet soft power is misappropriated as a descriptor for anything other than hard military power; its overuse slowly eroding the explanatory value of the concept. As the term continues to gain traction among the commentariat, it begs the questions, is it properly understood and do we know who’s got it?

Simply put, soft power is the ability of a state to achieve a desired outcome through the leveraging of legitimacy, or better still, attraction. Soft power eschews the traditional foreign policy implements of carrot and stick, relying instead on a sterling reputation and benevolent disposition. Soft power transcends the elitism of classic diplomacy by putting the increasingly well-informed global public into play. In doing so, soft power opens up a third front, supplementing the traditional mediums of international relations: governments and opinion formers.

In today’s networked world of instant information and rapidly shifting public opinion, soft power is more relevant than ever, and nations – especially emerging players – are showing an increased awareness of its potential. China, for example, has launched a global charm offensive spearheaded by its Confucius Institutes, designed to promote Chinese language and culture. In just under six years, China has established 320 institutes around the world. And this year alone a further $8.9bn (€6.4bn) has been invested in “external publicity work” by the Chinese state. As more states begin to view foreign affairs through a soft power lens, foreign policy strategies will change accordingly, but will new approaches to diplomacy and global public engagement shift the balance of power?

Ultimately, this is the question that inspired the Soft Power Survey, and the timing of the question is no accident. As the centre of political and economic power migrates eastward, emerging nations are moving to expand their influence and promote their national brands. In contrast, the tired economies of the West are retrenching, and governments are marshalling their priorities in accordance with domestic concerns. This fluctuating state of global politics creates the perfect backdrop to assess the soft power of the world’s major players – capturing a snapshot of the global soft power hierarchy at a potentially crucial tipping point.

With the old guard of world powers collectively entering into a period of sustained austerity, soft power assets will be among the most tempting budget lines to cut. But there is a dangerous false economy in cutting soft power capabilities. Soft power is easier to lose than to gain. And if the old soft power networks of the West are trimmed back, emerging powers will fill the vacuum. In 12 months’ time, our survey could look very different.

Jonathan McClory is a senior researcher at the Institute for Government

Testing times

Numbers crunched

Some of the metrics we used:

  1. Number of foreign correspondents in country
  2. Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media
  3. Gold medals at last summer and winter Olympics
  4. Number of tourists per year
  5. Official Development Assistance as percentage of GDP
  6. HDI ranking: UN ranking that includes life expectancy
  7. World Bank Global Government Initiative ranking
  8. Freedom House Score
  9. Number of foreign students per 1,000 of population
  10. Number of universities in TES Top 200
  11. WEF Competitiveness Index
  12. WEF Trust in Government Scores
  13. Transparency International Corruption Index
  14. Henley & Partners Visa Restriction Index
  15. Number of patents per year
  16. Inward Foreign Direct Investment
  17. Position on Anholt-Gfk Roper Nation Brands Index
  18. Cultural missions abroad.
  19. Foreign languages spoken by prime minister or president
  20. Number of speakers of the language outside the country


UK & France: the joint winners

Two rival nations come joint first in our Soft Power Survey. Both have governments that seem to have little natural passion for soft power but have history, language, pop culture and more on their side. Sadly both are also led by premiers who are unable to speak a second language

The British and the French often like to think they share little in common. But it is similar strengths that have propelled the two countries to the top of our first ever Soft Power Survey – and similar flaws that may mean they don’t stay on top next year.

In the days of the British Empire, when a quarter of the map was pink, the UK did not rule by hard power alone. Shakespeare, football and Oxbridge graduates all played their part in shaping the way the United Kingdom was viewed. The empire may be over (Gibraltar and the Falklands don’t count) but the influence of British culture, sport and education remains strong across the world, and not just in its former colonies.

The BBC World Service is still the best source of international news, whether you’re halfway up an Afghan mountain or sat under a tree in a Zimbabwean village. And the world still wants to hear what’s happening in the UK – only the United States hosts more foreign correspondents.

While the Brits may not be as good at sport as they like to think, the events they host, whether they’re at Wimbledon, Lord’s or Wembley, are still some of the best in the world. Britain’s museums and art galleries send exhibitions to every continent and thousands of schools boast of their adherence to the English education system. And the country has shown a willingness to commit growing amounts of money to aid.

France too, benefits today from a colonial legacy that has left it with a network of diplomatic and business ties as well as hundreds of millions of people who speak French. Like the UK, France’s influence spreads far further than Francophone Africa. French cuisine is a byword for quality, its fashions are on every high street and its language is spoken in the corridors of power from New York to Brussels.

The global network of Alliance Françaises is second to none, in terms of both quality and quantity, and Paris also attracts a high number of foreign journalists. Neither Radio France International nor the relatively young France 24 command as much worldwide respect as the BBC, which is in a class of its own, but both compare favourably to every other state-sponsored media.

France’s cultural offering relies heavily on its rich artistic history. Monet and Gauguin are far better known than any present day pop stars. French cultural protectionism works up to a point, but its exports can seem elitist rather than inclusive. Still, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay help France attract more tourists than any other country in the world (the Eiffel Tower helps too, of course).

The UK and France may both have soft power, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their governments know how to use it. The new UK government is openly critical of the BBC and considered cutting the World Service’s budget. It also recently announced cuts of 24 per cent to the Foreign Office. While croissants are eaten in N’Djamena and French music played in Senegalese clubs, decades of government support for West African dictators has won the country few friends among ordinary African citizens.

Both countries have also seen their reputation in the Arab world take a battering over the past decade, thanks to government decisions. For the UK it was the Iraq War, for the French it was the 2005 riots in the Paris banlieues. With both countries’ hard power taking a knock in recent years, perhaps the UK and France should work out how to use the strengths they have.

UK in numbers

Film exports: €1.45bn
Foreign correspondents in country: 1,500
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 241 million (BBC World Service)
Number of schools and universities abroad: 2,100
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 20
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.52
Cultural mission offices: 200
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 0
Panel comments: Eclectic mix of world-beating soft power icons, including David Beckham and the Queen.


English may be a blessing but the Brits’ failure to speak anything else is just rude.

France in numbers

Film exports: €141m
Foreign correspondents in country: 1,300
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 35.6 million
Speakers of language not in country: 128 million
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 9
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.46
Cultural mission offices: 968
Foreign languages spoken by president: 0
Panel comments: Fine cuisine, an impressive cultural offering, and a strong sporting heritage.


Needs to up its game in contemporary art and pop culture. It’s still more about the Louvre than the Palais de Tokyo.

View from China

Taking on the BBC for a new world view

China doesn’t like the way it’s portrayed in western media, as its fury over the coverage of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates. Yet the government has a strategy to promote its point of view: it’s investing €4.7bn to turn China’s state-run media mouthpieces into global news conglomerations to rival BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.

China Central Television (CCTV), the country’s largest news network, has expanded its broadcasts in recent years to six languages – Chinese, English, Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic – and plans to add a seventh, Portuguese. It will triple its overseas bureaux from 19 to 56 by 2012. Meanwhile, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, set up an English-language network in July called CNC World, which Xinhua president Li Congjun says will “present an international vision with a China perspective”.

But analysts are sceptical that China’s soft-power push will be a success, given the government has not altered its steering of the message. “There’s a real limit on how you can spin things,” says David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project.



A dud at home, but Obama is still a hit abroad for America

The term “soft power” could have been invented to describe all the things that the US government never made an international priority. It mastered hard power, investing in military forces and aggressively pushing its commercial interests overseas. But Washington has funded few other efforts to push its good name: the US has been a timid foreign aid donor, has no national tourism agency, and dismantled its Cold War-era United States Information Agency a decade after the Berlin Wall fell.

But where the US government has stepped away, the country’s private sector has filled the breach. American movies, music and TV still remain the most popular, setting the benchmark for international popular culture and serving as the world’s only reliable national celebrity factory.

The outpouring of international support in the wake of 9/11 dissipated following the Iraq War but the election of Barack Obama has boosted America’s image abroad. Obama may be losing his shine at home, but he remains a powerful brand overseas.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €7.68bn
Foreign correspondents in country: 3,150
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 125 million
Number of schools and universities abroad: 226
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 45
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.2
Foreign languages spoken by president: 0
Panel comments: Has the best soft power icons, from Obama to DiCaprio. American films and music dominate the world.


The US should expand its visa-waiver scheme and provide a more friendly welcome at its borders.



Beethoven, bier and balls: the ultimate image makeover

Few countries understand better than Germany the importance of soft power. Following the end of the Second World War it has looked to culture and sport as a way to sell its international image.

It is done in a cautious way. With an annual budget of more than €300m, the 144 Goethe-Instituts worldwide don’t just teach German and let obscure Teutonic indie-bands tour the world at taxpayers’ expense – many of the Goethes focus more on building up the host nation’s arts and culture.

The German film industry is also growing, although it doesn’t always help the image makeover. Most of the successful films in recent years have been about the war.

The country is becoming more relaxed about displays of patriotism, though. The 2006 football World Cup, which Germany hosted, showcased a friendly, confident nation that confirmed some of the better German stereotypes (it was the most efficient World Cup ever), while banishing the less favourable (crowds of flag-waving Germans is not necessarily a bad thing).

Country in numbers

Film exports: €66.9m
Foreign correspondents in country: 400
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 86 million
Speakers of language not in country: 15 million
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 26
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.35
Cultural mission offices: 144
Foreign languages spoken by chancellor: 1
Panel comments: Great business brands, smart airline and a respected leader. But can you name a German filmstar?


Germany has a lot to boast about – it shouldn’t be shy about blowing its trumpet.



A natural at soft power but there’s been slippage

The Swiss – like the Dutch and the Danes – have allowed their soft power potential to take a battering in recent years. From fretting over minarets to allowing small racist parties to dominate the headlines, the country has ended up looking not that nice. But it’s funny how one person can almost save the day: step up Roger Federer in his white shorts. If you ask people to name one Swiss person who is a cultural icon it’s that man with a mean backhand. But it’s a shame there are not more clean-cut boys to help keep the country popular.

The country has plenty of other things working in its favour such as some of the best embassies and diplomats in the world (and embassies that in many less than pleasant places also end up looking after lots of other countries’ interests because of Switzerland’s neutrality). It also has a multilingual populace who can often get by in three or four languages, great corporate brands that sell Swissness (just think of all those watches) and even that chocolate helps. Despite all the self-inflicted hits, Switzerland has a built-in soft power allure to be admired.

Country in numbers

Foreign correspondents in country: 100
Number of schools and universities abroad: 17
Speakers of languages not in country: 250 million
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 8
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.47
Position on Nation Brands Index: 8 out of 50
Cultural mission offices: 22
Foreign languages spoken by president of the Confederation: 2
Panel comments: Switzerland also benefits from Geneva being an ever-growing diplomatic hub.


Don’t allow the nation to be tarnished as rich and mean. Spend more on aid.



There is much to shout about but Sweden takes a quiet approach

Sweden is present in our daily lives much more than we’re probably aware of. Swedish pop-music fills our radios, Swedish jeans are on our high streets and Swedish furniture is in our homes – at least until we can afford to get some more expensive furnishings.

Much of Sweden’s power lies in its openness to the outside world, curiosity for trends and killer marketing skills. Swedish ad agencies always fare well in international competitions – at this year’s Cannes Lions, for instance, Swedish bureaux took home 46 prizes.

Even though it might actually apply to just a few, bigger cities, Sweden is generally perceived as a cool and advanced nation in fashion, technology and academics. Sweden also gets points for its environmental work and welfare society, and due to its neutrality, its diplomats are widely used as successful mediators in international conflicts. Swedish dance, literature, art, film and theatre deserve a better push from the government. Against that background, it is strange – and disappointing – that the country only has two cultural mission offices abroad.

Country in numbers

Foreign correspondents in country: 212
Number of schools and universities abroad: 20
Speakers of language not in country: 400,000
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 5
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 1.12
Cultural mission offices: 2
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 1
Panel comments: Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell are helping push Swedish creativity to the world.


Sweden needs to sell itself more. A range of Swedish cultural centres promoting the country’s music and arts would be a start.



A Scandanavian lesson in how to squander influence

Thanks to its moderate, progressive governments of the 1970s and 1980s, Denmark had acquired enviable soft power with its generous overseas aid budget, tolerant immigration policies, a pioneering role in wind power development and a dazzling cultural product.

Things began to go awry with the ascendance of the right-wing Dansk Folkeparti, third party power brokers since the 2001 election, who have fostered a toxic, anti-multicultural climate.

Another watershed was Denmark’s unquestioning support of the 2003 Iraq war, but the final straw was the childishly provocative Mohammed cartoons published by Jyllands Posten in 2005. It was astonishing to see the Dannebrog being burned on Middle Eastern streets, not least because, a few months earlier, it would have been unlikely that many of the protesters would have known where Denmark was.

There is one, tiny, silver lining for Denmark’s soft power. Perhaps because of his support for the US, former PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen was installed as secretary general of NATO in 2009. He has some repair work to do.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €21,835
Foreign correspondents in country: 82
Speakers of language not in country: 130,000
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 1
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.88
Cultural mission offices: 17
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 1
Panel comments: Somewhat lacking in soft power icons. Its cuisine is only now starting to excite. Strong embassies and good ambassadors, though.


Denmark should return to what it does best: cutting edge design, ground-breaking arts, and a liberal approach to the world outside its borders.

Top of the league

English football is the nation’s secret weapon

On any given Saturday, bars, restaurants and video shacks across the world are full of fans watching football. But they are not tuned into their local league – they are watching the English Premier League.

With some of the leading players and most famous clubs, English football’s top tier has become the most-watched league in the world. North Korea is the only country where the Premier League cannot be seen.

The proliferation of satellite television has dramatically increased the league’s audience over the past five years, with deals signed in sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East. Britain’s timezone also helps – a 15.00 kick-off at Villa Park can be watched at breakfast in Los Angeles and after dinner in Beijing.

The league has arguably become Britain’s greatest export. The British Council works closely with the league and former prime minister, Gordon Brown, once described it as the country’s “secret diplomatic weapon”.

Oddly, despite its success abroad, the league is unloved by many at home, where its mega-bucks image sits uneasily with genuine football fans.

“The further away from England that you get, the better our reputation is,” says Dan Johnson, the league’s head of communications. “In our own country we get castigated from week to week, but the reputation of the Premier League abroad is universally positive.”

Ninja heroes

Countries need cool heroes to win friends

Why does Japan get more news coverage in the West than Nigeria? Yes, Japan’s economy is bigger. But with 147 million people, Nigeria has 20 million more souls than Japan. It’s a leading world oil exporter and home to potentially explosive religious tensions. Ask American David Weinberger that question, and he’ll give you a theory: Japan has ninjas, and Nigeria doesn’t.

Weinberger, a researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, believes that we get interested in one country or another based on what we know – or believe we know – about its culture. It’s all very arbitrary, he says. Nigeria may have produced great artists (Fela Kuti, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) but it is known as the email spam capital of the world.

Japan, meanwhile, has achieved a stratospheric level of hipness thanks to its anime cartoons, cutting-edge technology and, yes, ninjas. “Japan happens to have some cultural elements that we have learned about, and identify with, because they made good stories, and fit in nicely with our idea of cool,” Weinberger says. His ninja theory arose from a debate he’s had for years with a colleague at the Berkman Center.

Ethan Zuckerman spends a lot of time wondering how to get people interested in places they may never have heard of. “You need a hook that allows people to engage with some of the complex stories they might care about,” Zuckerman says.



From Thorpedo to Kylie, a cultural hit on every level

It may be a nation that is famously self-mocking about its lack of culture but globally people like what they see in Australia – and Australians. The country comes across as young and able. And then there’s the value of all that sun, sea and sand. Aside from Caribbean islands, no country is so associated with the beach life as Australia. And for many around the world this also adds to the image of a people able to deliver an easy-going good life.

Sport plays a huge role in the way the country is viewed, with iconic swimmers such as Ian Thorpe and cricketers including Shane Warne proving sure-fire icons. A decade on from the Sydney Olympics, Australia still retains the benefits of hosting one of the most successful games ever, which showcased a modern, confident country with top-class infrastructure.

Perfomers as diverse as Kylie Minogue and Barry Humphries have entertained the world, filmstars including Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett have flown the Aussie flag and its television shows and films export well. A country with luck on its side.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €16.56m
Foreign correspondents in country: 200
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 16
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.29
Position on Nation Brands Index: 9 out of 50
Cultural mission offices: 316
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 0
Panel comments: With a strong national airline and world famous cultural figures, Australia makes an impact.


Australia provides good leadership in the Pacific but its voice should be heard more on global issues. The country is spending big on military procurement but should not neglect its soft power potential.



Finns know that if you want to make friends, education is the key

As a small country in the north, Finland has little influence in world politics. So it has made considerable efforts to become a skilled excerciser of soft power. Its education system is widely admired and now the country is starting to export it. Abu Dhabi has already decided to copy the Finnish system.

Finns have also realised the value of communication, and as practically nobody outside the country itself speaks Finnish, they have pushed hard to make sure their children learn other languages. All pupils study at least two, one of which is usually English. Finland is also improving its visibility abroad with 16 cultural and academic institutes. One of the most active ones in London achieved success this autumn with the HEL YES! restaurant and exhibition showcasing Finnish design and food.

While Finland needs to pull itself together for the next Olympic Games – the latest Winter Games were the country’s worst since 1932 – Formula One and rally drivers such as Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Räikkönen continue to raise Finland’s profile on the race track.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €12m
Foreign correspondents in country: 212
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: less than 100,000
Speakers of language not in country: 300,000
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 1
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.54
Cultural mission offices: 17
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 1
Panel comments: Finland knows what has to be done and is polishing its soft power brand.


We’re well aware of its design heritage, but Finland could do better at exporting its cultural gems too.



Endless sporting victories pay global dividends

Sport is surefire ordnance in any country’s soft power arsenal and Spain has it stockpiled in kegfulls. Spain is home to two of the world’s most iconic football clubs; a national side that won both the European Championship in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010; the world’s number one tennis player, Rafael Nadal, glorious Ryder Cup golfer Miguel Angel Jimenez and a host of other sporting talent. In recent years Spain has proved itself a heavyweight rarely missing from the back pages of the global media.

As the world’s 12th largest economy, however, Spain has also rarely been absent lately from the financial press with Europe’s worst unemployment figures, bankruptcy threats and a collapsed housing market. On the other hand Zapatero’s government has fought a foreign policy charm offensive since taking office in 2004, pulling troops from Iraq and pulling off this year’s European Union Presidency with aplomb.

Spain is the third most visited country in the world, a fact that endorses its soft power credentials as an attractive and approachable global force.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €141m
Foreign correspondents in country: 302
Number of schools and universities abroad: 14
Speakers of language not in country: 500 million
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 5
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.46
Cultural mission offices: 82
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 1
Panel comments: The national football team and Rafael Nadal are superb soft power icons. And the food’s great.


TVE Internacional doesn’t have the reach of France 24 yet with half a billion Spanish speakers it could be huge.


The Netherlands

It’s had a bad rap but it does have credentials

If we had done this survey a generation ago then the Netherlands would have done even better. But the years have not been kind to its reputation.

Once a liberal bastion, it has become increasingly intolerant of immigrants and Muslims. Its national football team epitomised the “beautiful game” in the 1970s, but its brutal performance in the 2010 World Cup final – when most non-football fans were watching – probably did more harm. And KLM is no longer the global player it used to be.

However, the picture should not become too distorted. The country’s universities – 10 of which are in the world’s top 200 – bring in more than 30,000 foreign students a year. The vast majority of Dutch people speak at least one other language, adding to its appeal to outside investors. And it is a good aid donor.

And while its contemporary arts scene is understandably no match for the days of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, it at least manages to display its rich history of art in beautiful modern settings. This helps to attract an impressive number of tourists.

Country in numbers

Foreign correspondents in country: 120
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 700,000
Number of schools and universities abroad: 299
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 11
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.82
Cultural mission offices: 2
Foreign languages spoken by Prime Minister: 1
Panel comments: The French got the better part of the Air France/KLM merger. But the Netherlands’ well-designed embassies remain winners.


Give KLM a makeover and don’t let Geert Wilders anywhere near government.



Good on paper but its media needs to be more ambitious

A reputation for punching above its weight when it comes to contributing troops to peacekeeping operations and also producing female pop singers (Avril, Shania, Celine, KD, Nelly, Alanis), Canada is strong on soft diplomacy but is not a superpower.

Part of Ottawa’s problem is that much of what it does on the world stage is refracted through a US prism. Female chanteuses and Cirque de Soleil aside, Canada doesn’t make quite as big a cultural contribution as it could. The CBC could easily be an alternative international voice to the BBC but it’s not. Canada could also boast a strong international newsweekly to push a slightly different Americas agenda but it’s seemingly content to play within its own borders.

And herein lies the problem, Canada is very content with its lot. While it threw considerable resources at Afghanistan and was a key player in Haiti, it could have gone much farther with the latter.

Looking north, the issue of Arctic sovereignty is looking for a leader and Canada should be manning this bridge as everyone scrambles for shipping routes and resources.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €22.25m
Foreign correspondents in country: 101
Number of tourists a year: 17.1 million
Number of schools and universities abroad: 4
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 17
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.3
Cultural mission offices: 0
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 1
Panel comments: Let down by its airline and leader.


Public and private sector should work on producing a world-class print/web/broadcast outlet of record to offer a distinct voice to the BBC’s.



The small nation punching (softly) above its weight

Singapore may never have won an Olympic gold medal but it gets full marks for its effort to become more approachable and fun. Even if Singaporeans still like doing things by the book and insist on talking in abbreviations, they are finally showing the world the kind of creative thinking they’ve been doing for years.

From the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which showcased its near perfect model of the compact city, to the €220m five-year investment in the creative industries and the city-state’s young international television station Channel News Asia, which brings a bit of Singapore to 29 million homes and hotels around the world, the country is beginning to show off its softer credentials. Singapore Airlines, one of the world’s best, also adds to the mix.

Sure, Singapore could portray itself in an even better light if it liberalised its media environment more but at least it now puts the importance of promoting the country’s culture on a par with boasting about its efficient civil service and knack for developing hi-tech weaponry for the Singapore Armed Forces.

Country in numbers

Foreign correspondents in country: 90
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 29 million
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 0
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0
Position on Nation Brands Index: 24 out of 50
Cultural mission offices: 0
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 1
Panel comments: It’s hard selling your soft power brand when people are not sure what it means to be Singaporean.


Singapore is short on sport, culture and soft power icons. Creating Asia’s strongest football league wouldn’t be too hard.



The peacemaker uses its oil money wisely to make friends

Norway’s biggest soft power asset is probably its reputation as an international peacemaker. Since the end of Cold War, Norway has been an active player on the international stage, brokering the famous Oslo agreement between Israel and Palestine in 1993, helping to conclude a temporary ceasefire in Sri Lanka in 2002, and playing a leading role in the 2005 Sudan peace deal.

Norway’s role as a mediator brings it a lot of international goodwill, and its image as a defender of peace and freedom is strengthened even more by the Nobel Peace Prize.

Norway is also using its oil wealth to acquire soft power. Despite its small size, has made significant financial contributions to the UK and has pledged close to €100m in humanitarian assistance to Haiti.

Lately, Norway has begun to extend its reach in other areas. Norwegian design is perhaps the least known of all the Scandinavian countries but through exhibitions such as 100% Norway, showing the work of young designers to an international audience, this image has begun to change.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €3.76m
Foreign correspondents in country: 75
Number of schools and universities abroad: 19
Position on Nation Brands Index: 13 out of 50
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 12
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 1.06
Cultural mission offices: 0
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 1
Panel comments: In Jens Stoltenberg the country has a PM skilled in the soft power shuffle – his work on global environment issues is impressive.


If you are small, don’t waste opportunities. The Nobel Peace Prize for Obama was silly.



Not just big in Japan: shinkansen and manga are star turns

Diplomatically, Japan has its problems. Its closest neighbour, South Korea, often regards it with suspicious resentment. In China, angry mobs are taking to the streets over a territorial argument about disputed islands. And 65 years after the war ended, there is still no peace treaty with Russia because of similar land issues.

But despite all of this, people all over the world – East Asians especially – are devouring Japanese cultural products as never before. Taiwanese book stores are filled with Japanese magazines, while Korean department stores dish up Japanese cuisine. Go into any Tokyo branch of the streetwear brand A Bathing Ape and the customers are as likely to be Chinese. In a region fraught with tension, popular culture can be a soothing balm.

There is another corporate-style soft power that Japan also does well. It’s adept at persuading nations that they need Japanese high-speed trains, its electronics, clothes and cars. The use of “Shinkansen diplomacy” in particular has helped the country forge both new friendships and lucrative business deals.

Country in numbers

Film exports: €405m Foreign correspondents in country: 564
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 130 million
Olympic gold medals 08/10 (summer and winter): 9
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.18
Position on Nation Brands Index: 5
Cultural mission offices: 19
Foreign languages spoken by prime minister: 0
Panel comments: Japan is not a great aid donor and it’s insular nature lets it down. And when will it have a leader who can talk to the world?


More top officials who can speak foreign languages.

The last 10 countries

A few are nations with nature, food and the citizenry on their side (Italy, Brazil), some are deliberately brushing up their soft power credentials (South Korea, China), and others have one of two problems to sort out (Israel) – that’s why they all come in the ‘could do better’ part of the league table



The gods are on the side of Italy when it comes to making friends

When it comes to power projection, Italians do it better softly. The country’s enviable climate, natural scenery and wealth of artwork and architecture – 45 UNESCO World Heritage sites and counting – make it easy to win new friends. Its language and cooking are also never short of disciples. The same goes for design and fashion. Even the military, not known for its prowess on the battlefield, operates best in soft power mode. But today’s music scene is stunted and cinema is also in the dumps – Italy’s film exports bring in 80 per cent less than France’s.



If you’re Tibetan it may have passed you by but China is going soft

China only made its lagging soft power a priority in 2007, when President Hu Jintao stressed its “growing significance” in a speech to the National Congress. But since then, the country has been relentless in its drive to overhaul its image, sinking billions into cultural programmes, foreign aid, and an expansion of its overseas media reach. Nothing has done more toward this effort than the 2008 Beijing Olympics and this year’s Shanghai World Expo. China has put a greater emphasis on humanitarian aid, it sent search-and-rescue teams to earthquake-ravaged Chile.



The government has handed over soft power to the people

It’s perhaps hard for any Israeli government to look nice when you are doing battle on so many fronts. But here’s the intriguing thing, Israeli citizens, even some officials, have been doing a rather good soft power job on their own. Take Ron Huldai the mayor of Tel Aviv. Huldai has helped give his city the reputation of being a liberal, open-minded place where anyone is welcome. And then there are the arts. From high culture, especially classical music, to new film, to literature, the Israeli art world has done an incredible job at forging relationships around the world.


South Korea

The South Koreans have suddenly become big on the soft sell

Once perceived as a nation locked in Cold War confrontation, South Korea has been reinforcing its national portfolio with an arsenal of soft power assets. Seoul is busily promoting its national cuisine, upping aid to developing countries and dominating tourism ad spend on Discovery. It hosts everything: Summer Olympics (1988); World Cup (2002); G20 Summit (2010); Winter Olympics (2018 – hopefully). Since the mid-1990s, a “Korean Wave” of TV drama, pop, film and computer games have also been selling well across Asia.


South Africa
Nelson Mandela is still the ultimate diplomatic super hero

An average of 50 murders a day can’t help but affect South Africa’s international image, but soft power has the potential to shape the country’s future South Africa has spent the past 16 years searching for a post-apartheid national identity – no easy thing in an era in which war and conquest are no longer the route to nation-building. It has the ultimate feel-good icon in Nelson Mandela. And its success in building stadiums and infrastructure, then staging the 2010 football World Cup, has also boosted its reputation around the world.



President Lula helped Brazil became a gentle global giant

Brazil is a soft power leader without having to lift a finger: just a football-boot-shod foot or a hand clasping a microphone or clapperboard. Following the 2002 election of Luiz Inacio Luis da Silva as president, and the igniting of the Brazilian economic miracle, the country has sought to use soft power to gain a greater presence on the global diplomatic stage. Diplomats at the foreign ministry, the Itamaraty Palace, in Brasilia have been using everything from cultural exchanges to food festivals to make friends.



Give a big wave for Mexico – a troubled nation saved by art

For the average European, interaction with Mexican culture probably begins and ends with the occasional poorly cooked burrito. It’s different in the US though, where Los Angeles is home to the second largest Mexican population after Mexico City itself and Mexican-Americans make up 16 per cent of the US population. While food and drink have long formed part of Mexico’s cultural export, the country’s film industry is increasingly opening doors. Add in the successful hosting of two World Cups and one Olympics and it’s a decent soft power mix.



The Commonwealth Games were a PR disaster for India

The adverts may proclaim it’s “incredible”, but India is going to struggle to rebuild its brand after the disaster of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Collapsing bridges, hotel rooms full of sewage and the sight of children working on last-minute additions to the stadium all ensured that the Games failed to do for India what the Olympics did for China. Bollywood films and curry show the world a better side to India, while for those who love cricket there are few better sights than batting superstar Sachin Tendulkar. But a bid for the Olympics would be unwise.



Thrusting engines have helped boost the Gulf state into our top 25

The seven Emirates that make up the UAE have one stand-out Rolls-Royced-engined soft power winner: the Dubai-based Emirates airline (and to a lesser extent Abu Dhabi’s Etihad). While European governments have washed their hands of their national carriers, in the Gulf the ruling families have seen them as a tool to diversify their petro-economies and also to sell themselves around the world (although, until now, Dubai has been the biggest beneficiary of the airline dividend). It’s reputation has been a soaring soft power success.



Soft power is the perfect diplomatic tool to bridge Europe and Asia

Any country bordering Iran, Iraq and the European Union is going to need a touch of soft power to stay friends with everyone. An increasingly confident Turkey has carved out a critical geopolitical role, with current prime minister Recep Erdogan impressing on the world stage. Turkey’s culture may not be well-known in the West but the country’s soap operas – high quality productions featuring gorgeous Istanbul settings, attractive actors and appealing stories – have found an audience throughout the Arab world and the Balkans.

European harmony

Sometimes soft power is dressed in sequins

It may raise little more than a disparaging giggle in most music lovers, yet the Eurovision Song Contest still invokes a deep sense of patriotism in most of the 100 million fans who tune in each year. Aired on televisions as far apart as Australia and Kazakhstan, if there’s one way for a country to endear itself, it’s by shoving one of its weirder musicians in front of the world on a Saturday night in May. Nothing besides the World Cup comes close.

Eurovision was set up by the European Broadcasting Union in 1956, as a soft-power band-aid over a wounded Europe. The first event was symbolically held in Switzerland, and seven countries participated, including France and West Germany. As Europe opened up, so did Eurovision: Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia have all made their debut in recent years.

Its ambitions are still softly political. “The purpose is to bring nations together and have them compete in a peaceful manner, exchange culture and show each other their identity,” says Eurovision’s Sietse Bakker. Is it still relevant? “Modern times have their own challenges. Eastern and western Europe still have work to do to get to know each other better,” says Bakker.

Sometimes not even Eurovision can help. In 2003 – the year that the UK invaded Iraq – it scored the dreaded “nil points”. The song was rubbish though.

Building bridges

How Spain got a good name in the US

Nowhere is Spain’s rise as an engineering force more surprising to behold than in Milwaukee, a mid-sized Midwestern city never known for its worldly reach. The defining icon of post-industrial Milwaukee is Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s swooping, nautically minded addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum on the city’s lakefront. The Quadracci Pavilion, which opened here in 2001, was his first US project.

Now two Spanish firms have picked the Wisconsin city as a base for expansion. Ingeteam, a Bilbao-headquartered producer of alternative-energy equipment, is finishing a plant in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley. Ingeteam plans to start making wind-power generators and convertors early next year.

At the same time, Spanish train-builder Talgo America is moving into an abandoned car factory, where it will produce rolling stock for the city’s first high-speed rail service. The new line will connect Milwaukee to Madison, the state capital located 130km away, and is scheduled to begin operation in 2013. All this has helped make Spain seem an appealing, inspiring, clever nation in this corner of the US.

American in Paris

How the US sells itself to France’s banlieues

Riot police are President Nicolas Sarkozy’s stock answer to trouble in France’s rundown suburbs, known as the banlieues. US ambassador Charles Rivkin, a former Hollywood executive posted to Paris by Barack Obama in 2009, applies a softer touch to polish his country’s image.

Rivkin has brought a number of mural-painters, theatre groups and film stars from the United States to woo the banlieues.

“The ability to bring someone like Samuel L. Jackson to a place such as Bondy (an eastern suburb of Paris) gives us a higher profile than we would otherwise have,” says US embassy spokesman Paul Patin.

Participants say the approach encourages youngsters and entrepreneurs who feel neglected by their own government.

“When they see the most powerful country’s representative deigning to pay them a bit of attention, it’s beneficial,” says Nordine Nabili, who hosted Jackson and Rivkin’s visit at the offices of the Bondy Blog, a news site set up during the 2005 riots.

The embassy also takes 30 young “civil leaders” on a tour of the US each year. A quarter of this year’s delegation came from the banlieues.

“We don’t care so much about a person’s background,” says Patin. “We are more interested in what a person has done to show that he or she is engaged with the future of France.”


Seiichi Kondo

Japan’s Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Kondo is the man responsible for funding Japanese culture and helping to promote it abroad.

Is the idea of soft power important to Japan?
Yes, it has become much more important in our rapidly globalising world. Japan has a great deal of soft power resources – our long traditions, our philosophies and our modern culture – the question is how to translate those resources into real power to influence the rest of the world.

Can soft power be more effective than traditional diplomacy?
Japan and Korea still have problems of history and territory but the younger generation on both sides have no difficulty in making friends with their counterparts across the Japan Sea. This has been happening since the joint hosting of the World Cup in 2002. Similarly even now, when Japan and China are having political problems such as [the issue of] the Senkaku Islands, there is still a flow of young Chinese coming to Japan and vice versa. Shared pop culture is easy for young people to understand.

Should the government be using big industries such as manga and anime?
We should make it easier for young artists who read manga and then want to come here to Japan. Big artists like Takeshi Murakami can export our soft power but the most effective way of inspiring young artists is to let them live here so I would like to expand the artists-in-residence programme.


Nachman Shai

Nachman Shai has held some challenging PR jobs in Israel, including chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, communications consultant to the minister of defence and spokesperson of the Israeli Defence Force. Shai recently completed his PhD thesis on Israel’s international image. He is a member of parliament for the centrist Kadima party.

Why is soft power important for Israel?
Soft power is the way in which modern democratic countries communicate with each other; it is today’s lingua franca. Israel is in a unique position because it is threatened militarily as well as politically, due to a rising effort to delegitimise its existence.

Does Israel do it well?
Its potential is far bigger. The Israeli and Jewish narratives can bring us closer to other cultures. On the Jewish side, there’s the connection among monotheistic religions, the wanderings and the eventual homecoming. On the Israeli side, it’s a story of a young country that achieved impressive accomplishments in nation-building, technology and education over a short period.

What problems do you see?
Israelis are good in short-term solutions, partly due to the circumstances. Soft power, on the other hand, needs planning and is built for the long term.

How can soft power improve Israel’s international image?
People will look at Israel differently if they’re familiar with its soft power. Due to circumstances, Israel appears in one context, that of violence and conflict, and this adversely affects its image.

How we did this survey

Ranking the world’s leading soft-power movers and shakers

Monocle and the Institute for Government have spent the past few months sifting data, reading reports and corroborating metrics to compile this survey. But we have also made sure that our on-the-ground experiences from four years covering soft power in the magazine have been added to the mix. If 70 per cent of this report is based on straight numbers, another 30 per cent is our opinion.

The survey began with 50 countries that have garnered a reputation for using, or wanting to use, soft power. Over the weeks we narrowed this list to focus on the countries that soon emerged as the best or most ambitious practitioners. But, of course, there are many other countries that use soft power to various degrees.

For each nation we checked over 20 metrics. Elements ranked included what could be termed the casual weapons of soft power – where nobody sets out with the aim in mind of winning friends. Others are more deliberately targeted soft power tools: the use of state-sponsored media and aid.

We looked at how sporting prowess can sell a country, how you can get your message over by becoming a base for the world’s journalists, the use of overseas schools and universities and a very simple question: does your PM or president speak more than one language? This data was then

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