Conceived of only 21 years ago, already most nations want a “soft power” strategy – a way of winning the world over without resorting to military-industrial might. Monocle has indexed the top 30 soft power nations, which have achieved their status through natural resources combined with creative, modern thinking.
Everyone wants it, some have it, few know how to use it. There is barely a foreign ministry on the planet that doesn’t have a soft power unit, a soft power strategy or, at the very least, a memo from a minister returning from an overseas conference urgently asking his advisors what this soft power business is all about.
The phrase “soft power” has been around for two decades, devised by the American foreign policy expert, Joseph Nye. But until Monocle and the Institute for Government compiled the first ever Soft Power Survey 12 months ago, it remained a relatively nebulous concept whose definition depended on which foreign minister you were talking to.
Our first survey prompted some anguished responses from foreign ministries and cultural institutions. Ministerial advisers got in touch to point out soft power nuggets we had apparently overlooked, various heads of public diplomacy made personal pleas to be ranked higher next time around, while the head of one august cultural institution was rather put out by our failure to name-check his organisation.
Our joint winners last year, the UK and France, have both suffered soft power setbacks over the last 12 months. As last year’s survey was heading off to the printers the UK’s new coalition government announced it was taking an axe to one of the country’s greatest soft power icons, the BBC World Service. The government’s insistence on following a path of austerity – regardless of the economic merits or otherwise – has created an image of a country closed to business. And while David Cameron was a high profile supporter of the Nato action against Muammar Gaddafi, his government’s strategy towards the Arab Spring has been confused by the vagaries of realpolitik, preaching democracy in some countries and autocratic stability (plus arms sales) in others.
France’s reputation has also taken a bit of a battering, from the arrest of would-be presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the subsequent discussion on French views on sex, to the country’s own role in the European financial crisis and Nicholas Sarkozy’s inability to help save the euro or sufficiently bolster French banks.
Sarkozy would claim that his prominent leadership of the rebellion in Libya – he was the first foreign leader to call for a no-fly zone – has improved France’s standing in the Arab world, but that would be to ignore his government’s earlier support for Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali during that country’s uprising, including the offer of French armed police officers.
There are two very different strengths the Soft Power Survey is measuring. It judges not just who has soft power, but who knows how to use it. Some of our leading contenders are unbeatable at knowing how to use their soft power, they just don’t have a great deal of it. Others, including our new winner, have it in abundance but still seem unsure about exactly how to wield it.
Some governments confuse it with propaganda. No matter how much money and attention is lavished on CCTV or Press TV, few of us are going to think more kindly of China or Iran.
Nor is hosting major sporting events an easy shortcut to global influence. South Africa may have done a fine job of the 2010 football World Cup but 18 months after the circus packed up and moved on, the country is left with little to show for it. Some residual goodwill, perhaps, but Jacob Zuma’s government has been unable to capitalise on the tournament’s success.
Russia is pinning its hopes on sport too, but it will take far more than a slick Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 or an entertaining football World Cup in 2018 to shift the country’s image while Vladmir Putin remains Russia’s most influential figure.
We have made a few changes to the survey this year, increasing the number of factors countries are judged against to 50. Additions include questions about Unesco world heritage sites, environmental treaties signed and the global strength of a country’s business brands.
We’ve also increased the number of countries in the survey, from 25 last year to 30 this time around. In total, we tested 40 countries but felt the top 30 alone deserved to make the cut. Those that missed out include Mexico and South Africa, both of whom were in last year’s top 25, as well as Indonesia, Thailand and Poland. Those five all have the potential to make it into the survey next year.
Over the next pages, we report on the winners and losers in this year’s survey, revealing who is up, who is down and – most importantly – who is our new number one. This survey is designed to stir debate, provoke arguments and prompt healthy discussion within foreign ministries around the world. We have a feeling we’ll be hearing from you soon.
1. Percentage of GDP spent on foreign aid
2. Number of cultural missions
3. Number of think-tanks and NGOs
4. Income inequality
5. Number of environmental treaties signed
6. Membership of international organisations
7. Violent crime rates
8. Spending on foreign scholarships
9. Number of academic journals published
10. Number of patents originating from country
11. World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index
12. Anholt-Gfk Roper Nation Brands Index
13. Number of internet users
14. Foreign direct investment
15. Number of tourists a year
16. Number of foreign correspondents in country
17. Value of film exports
18. Number of gold medals won at Olympic Games
19. Number of Unesco World Heritage sites
20. Audience figures for state-sponsored media
The US is still a major hard-power player and its corporations indulge in bullish muscle-flexing. But the US has bagged the top spot in our Soft Power Survey. Why? Put simply, it’s the world’s biggest cultural exporter. Even its government might turn a corner with its “smart power” strategy
The story of US decline is a popular one for media outlets across the globe. In just over 20 years, the country has gone from having a strong hangover of superpower – following the fall of the Soviet Union – to out-of-control budget deficits, the highest national debt in the world and an increasing number of international critics. Yet, it seems that no matter how many mistakes this US Administration – or former ones – may have made, America’s global influence is still intact and strong enough to put it at the top of our Soft Power Survey.
The term for soft power may have been coined in America, but Washington has always seemed more focused on demonstrating heavy-handed military power or confrontational commercial tactics than investing in soft power symbols such as an official US tourist board. But America’s private sector is still creating music, movies and ideas that shape how the rest of the world thinks. It’s not a case of blue jeans versus the Red Army any longer but the power of American culture is still second to none.
With Hollywood representing the zenith of the international movie business, the US film industry is on a steady path of growth. And, from country music to hip hop to bubblegum pop, American exports account for more than half of the albums in the current global top 50. While young students from many Middle Eastern countries would find obtaining a visa to study in the US – home to 17 of the world’s top 20 universities – pretty hard, the US government is no stranger to the power of its cultural exports, having sponsored radio stations in the Middle East in order to promote pro-American ideals.
Although no American media outlets can boast the same global audience as the BBC, the US plays home to more foreign correspondents than any other nation. With page space from Dublin to Dakar soon to be dedicated to the drama of the upcoming 2012 US election, there’s no doubt that the news made on American soil makes it to all corners of the globe.
Despite the absence of a national tourism board – or a modern, well-run national airline – the US still attracts millions of visitors every year. The vast size of the country may be an advantage here. Few other countries can claim the same geographical or cultural diversity as America. With the Great Plains of Wyoming, the beaches of southern California, the historical charm in Charleston and the buzz of cities such as New York, if there were a tourist board, it wouldn’t be a hard sell. And, with Hawaii positioned as a possible gateway to Asia and Miami being the entry point for much Latin American investment, the US remains one of the most influential countries to do business in.
Still the world’s largest economy, the US is the global leader in foreign aid spending, having sent $34.7bn (€25.1bn) overseas this year alone, although when viewed as a proportion of GDP the US falls behind several others. And, while fears of China’s economy overtaking America’s are rife, the Chinese government’s minimal spending on foreign aid places it far behind Washington in its ability to exert influence through assisting other nations in crisis.
The importance of soft power is not lost on the Obama administration. Reeling from modest praise in its handling of the Libyan Civil War, secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s emphasis on so-called “smart power” is once again back in focus and offers new hope for America’s global relevance. Proselytising the power of building networks and coalitions to foster new ways of working with other countries, Clinton has changed the traditional US approach of hard power coercion. While the Pentagon may still be the most highly funded institute of the US government, changing times in Washington have shown that force should not necessarily be the first line of attack for US foreign policy.
However, while individuals in the current administration have acknowledged the importance of persuasive soft power, there is no clear programme or budget to put efforts into play. And, as budgets in the US State Department and foreign service get slashed while military spending continues to increase, let’s hope that the US maintains a surplus in its soft power position.
Albums in the global top 50: 28
Foreign correspondents in country: 3,150
Audience figures abroad for state-sponsored media: 123m
Number of think-tanks: 1,816
Olympic gold medals (summer and winter): 45
Number of tourists each year: 59.7m
Number of Nobel Laureates: 333
Panel comments: The ultimate soft power icons, globally popular if not always healthy food, and Obama.
The US obsession with its own national exceptionalism is bad PR. From schoolchildren pledging allegiance to the flag as soon as they can speak, to crowds at every sporting event standing to sing “God Bless America”, sometimes America’s pride can seem isolating for outsiders.
It’s been a tough year for the UK’s soft power policy-makers. Firstly, the coalition government announced its intention to cut BBC World Service budgets – the UK’s most potent soft power weapon. The BBC said it would have to lay off five of its 32 language services and cease short-wave transmission in Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili as well as the Great Lakes service for Rwanda and Burundi.
Then, the British Council came under attack – literally. In August, Taliban insurgents stormed the Council’s Kabul headquarters, killing eight Afghan policemen and forcing its soft power team to take refuge in a safe room for 10 hours.
Despite all this, the country’s soft power strategy remains robust. In spring, the royal wedding gave the world pomp, pageantry and a princess. And David Cameron’s arms-length handling of the Arab Spring went some way to restoring the country’s reputation in the Middle East after the Iraq fall out.
Whatever its policy-makers do, British culture continues to be admired abroad. The country’s reputation for jolly good manners and benign eccentricity continue to win favour. Its film-makers, actors, artists and venerable education establishments all project an image of a creative, affable nation.
British soft power commands some unlikely spheres of influence. For instance, its football Premier League is practically a religion in Africa and large parts of the developing world. British TV dramas are cult viewing in vast swathes of America.
Budgets are tight. But despite his heavy austerity measures elsewhere, David Cameron’s government has ring-fenced aid. He’s also rebranded it by putting a royal crest to the aid department’s DFID logo and occasionally calling it UKAid. Apparently some people confused DFID with dippy. Next up? The London Olympics – the ultimate soft power test.
The UK is set on presenting an honest and democratic counterpoint to China’s manicured but rather soulless games. They have settled on a no-frills stadium that doesn’t even try and compete with Beijing’s Bird’s Nest. Thankfully, there are a few architects like Zaha Hadid flying the flag for the country’s talent.
But London might have to work hard to regain its reputation as an exemplary multi-cultural metropolis after the riots that dominated global headlines and baffled audiences from Accra to Ankara in August. Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t help things by announcing that Britain was a broken society. The capital needs to abandon all traces of English self deprecation and reticence and get promoting its unique identity to the global willing audience.
Albums in the global top 50: 11
Foreign correspondents in country: 1,500
Unesco World Heritage sites: 28
Fifa football ranking: 7
Olympic gold medals (summer and winter): 20
Universities in global top 100: 32
Number of cultural missions: 200
Panel comment: The UK scores highly for business brands with a global reach and its cultural heritage is hard to top. The Royals are popular too.
Constant talk of austerity does little to promote the UK as a business hub – and inane poster campaigns claiming “Britain is great” can sound a bit desperate.
One of the most enduring images to come out of Taiwan in recent years had nothing to do with the country itself, but with a famous American golfer and his jilted wife. Just hours after the news broke about Tiger Woods’ now-infamous car crash in 2009, the Taiwanese news service Next Media Animation had created a computer-animated recreation of the incident, replete with an irate Elin Nordegren chasing her husband with a golf club. The video went viral – and a new style of presenting, or rather parodying, the news was born.
Since then, Next Media Animation, founded by Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, has produced thousands of animated clips for the websites of Lai’s Apple Daily tabloids in Taiwan and Hong Kong, depicting everything from the killing of Osama bin Laden to lascivious local scandals. The videos typically garner 18 million views per week and have attracted a rabid following overseas.
Mark Simon, Next Media’s commercial director, believes the animations, however silly, are having a more profound effect by giving the world a glimpse of the innovative spirit flourishing in Taiwan. “Unless Taiwan has an earthquake or is being threatened by China, no one pays attention to it,” Simon says. “This humanises the island by showing a creative group of people enjoying things and being connected with the world.”
Will soft power ever be more important than traditional hard power?
They are complementary. Think back to the Cold War. Western hard power deterred Soviet aggression but soft power of ideas went through the Iron Curtain and undercut the views of the Soviet elite.
Some countries have soft power in abundance, but their governments don’t know how to use it – which is most important?
In America soft power is everything from Hollywood to Harvard. Government may use it intelligently or not. During the Bush administration, the invasion of Iraq destroyed soft power.
Does the Obama administration understand soft power?
It has a clear understanding of its importance. Obama has made the term “smart power” – the combination of hard and soft power – one of its key terms.
How has soft power changed in recent years?
One of the most interesting changes is the interest the Chinese government is taking in soft power. It is understandable because its hard power is rising. That tends to frighten China’s neighbours. So if China can develop its soft power, it frightens the neighbours less.
A hundred years ago, France was a master of soft power. The great intellectuals were French. Trends in art and literature originated in Paris. People everywhere looked up to France, and aspired to speak French. The world still looks to France for high fashion, gastronomy and design. But foreigners no longer see these as proof of France’s global domination. They see France as a charming museum with a restaurant attached.
France doesn’t want to become Italy: politically irrelevant but with great food. It still wants to lead the world. So it’s forever coming up with grand foreign-policy gestures: opposing war in Iraq, supporting intervention in Libya, trying to save the euro.
France’s strongest soft power is through its peculiar relationship with Germany. The big neighbour always has to show it’s being a “good European” because of the Second World War. Germany isn’t allowed to run the show alone, and so it runs it with France. This may not be global domination, but it’s more power than a mid-sized country with shaky banks might expect.
Number of cultural missions: 968
Annual attendance at art galleries: 278.5 million
Permanent missions to multilateral organisations: 22
Number of Nobel Laureates: 58
Fifa football ranking: 15
Environmental treaties signed: 25
Number of think-tanks: 176
Panel comment: While quality of cuisine and culture score highly, France is let down by its airlines and airports.
The French brand feels a little old. It’s all about the past and very little about the future. Greater investment in leading-edge, 21st-century ideas is needed.
Germany has long been said to make up for its lack of hard power by using economic weight to achieve political goals. This aspect of soft power has never been more true than today. With most of Mediterranean Europe desperately needing money, everybody puts their hopes on Angela Merkel’s deep pockets.
Since the middle of the financial crisis in 2009 German GDP grew by 7 per cent, and exports by more than 25 per cent. Even the worsening of the crisis is good for Germany because interest rates are low, and investors prefer to put their money in safe havens instead of more shaky candidates. So while Berlin is dramatically decreasing investments into its military power – doing away with conscription and reducing Bundeswehr’s troops from 240,000 to 180,000 – today Germany has substantially reinforced its role as Europe’s strongest nation. Still the country is a gentle giant. Many Germans feel a certain unease at having become a hegemonic power.
Number of embassies and consulates: 216
Membership of international organisations: 74
Number of Unesco World Heritage sites: 36
Fifa football ranking: 3
Number of think-tanks: 191
Nobel Laureates: 102
Universities in global top 100: 12
Panel comment: Second only to the US in terms of business brands, Germany has the potential to be a global political leader, but Angela Merkel seems more concerned with keeping her domestic audience happy.
These days the German government is suffering from more infighting than ever. With the rest of Europe waiting for Germany to make up its mind on critical matters, this country’s power sometimes seems a little too soft.
Few countries are as blessed with natural brands as Australia. The Australian way of life – boundless pristine nature, sun-kissed bodies lounging sportily on its beaches and a world-class foodie culture – seems to sell itself.
But Oz is no diplomatic dumb blonde: foreign minister Kevin Rudd proved as much during his masterful mustering of the Arab League against Libya’s now late dictator, Gaddafi. And in a neighbourhood increasingly dominated by hard powerhouse China, Australia seeks to retain its outsize relevance through a combination of cultural and diplomatic brains combined with natural resource brawn.
If China is the muscle of 21st century power, then Oz is its brain and bone: educating Asian students, which earns Australia AU$16bn (€12bn) annually, and providing the high-quality iron ore that is building China’s hi-tech cities. Then, those English-speaking students can sit in their hi-def cinemas built with Australian steel and watch the latest film by Cate Blanchett or Geoffrey Rush.
Olympic medals at last games (summer and winter): 16
Foreign correspondents in country: 200
Average spend per tourist: $5,115 (€3,700)
Albums in global top 50: 1
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 0.29 per cent
Number of cultural missions: 0
Number of environmental treaties signed: 20
Panel comment: The barbie on the beach, the Sydney Opera House and Kylie. What more could you want? A little global leadership wouldn’t go amiss – Julia Gillard is no Kevin Rudd.
A more welcoming immigration policy would be a good idea. The hardline attitude is at odds with the “hey, come on in” vibe the tourism ads like to promote.
If soft power lies in a country’s ability to attract and persuade, Swedes are well poised for continued success. With their pretty Bond-girls, Millennium novels, skinny jeans, indie rock bands and innovative technological solutions, Swedes have long stood for beauty, mystery, health and modernity.
While its political ambitions may not have been widely known outside the Nordic countries, foreign minister Carl Bildt has raised the country’s profile and given it a role in many international issues. Sweden’s political preferences are clear: it participates in international operations with a UN mandate, and likes to spread its political ideals of democracy and equal rights.
The country’s latest soft power effort is a plan to become Europe’s leading gastronomic nation. The government wants to double Sweden’s food exports by 2020. You’ve heard of Swedish meatballs – now get ready for some roasted reindeer.
Percentage of GDP spent on aid: 1.12 per cent
Total number of Nobel Laureates: 28
Number of think-tanks: 65
Number of Unesco World Heritage sites: 14
Number of cultural missions: 2
Average tourist spend: $2,237 (€1,618)
Membership of international organisations: 71
Panel comment: H&M may be on every high street, but Saab’s sale to the Chinese weakens the Swedish business brand. And while we may love Robyn (the Swedish songstress), meatballs and herring don’t travel well.
With Bildt facing criticism on home ground for his handling of the case of two captured Swedish journalists in Ethiopia, some of the country’s reputation is in danger. Hopefully the controversy will not leave a permanent mark.
Seen a French-language film lately? Odds are, you haven’t.
France still has a booming film industry but for English-speaking audiences, French cinema is no longer quite the cultural touchstone it once was.
To begin with, there is more competition. Countries including China and India have burgeoning film industries. “Speciality” divisions of Hollywood studios make independent-style films that appeal to the same demographic that’s willing to read subtitles.
John Kochman of uniFrance, which promotes French films abroad, says US ticket sales for French-language films have been mostly flat for the past decade. “There is a niche there, we’d like it to be bigger, but at least it’s not getting smaller,” Kochman says.
French filmmakers have taken note. The result is that you can now see a French film without even knowing it. EuropaCorp, the Paris-based company run by filmmaker Luc Besson, is behind a host of English-language thrillers, including Taken. Studiocanal, the movie division of French media giant Canal+, announced in September that it had raised €150m to fund its international productions.
Even the French have gone Hollywood. They buy more tickets to American movies than to French ones. Perhaps they’ve seen the writing on the wall too, and want to practice their English.
The worldwide outpouring of financial and humanitarian aid to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in March was revealing: it showed how much goodwill Japan had built up with other countries over the years.
If only Japan had that kind of influence in global affairs. In Asia, Japan’s militaristic past plagues its relations with neighbours. South Korea wants Tokyo to relinquish claims on disputed islets and Japan continues to squabble over territory with China and Russia.
But these days pop culture is helping to boost Japan’s image in a way that its diplomats never could. For a younger generation of consumers in Asia and other parts of the world, Japan is more about Uniqlo fashion, Nintendo gaming consoles and Hayao Miyazaki anime than the things that sabre-rattling politicians care about.
To its credit, Japan’s government grasps this, and in recent months the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – which normally champions the likes of Toyota and Sony – set up a Creative Tokyo unit whose aim is to promote Tokyo as Asia’s cultural hub.
Total spending on aid: $18.8bn (€13.6bn)
Number of embassies and consulates: 226
Number of think-tanks: 103
Universities in the global top 200: 5
Foreign correspondents in country: 550
Number of Unesco World Heritage sites: 16
Albums in the global top 50: 2
Panel comment: World-famous food and a host of pop and soap stars whose fame extends throughout East Asia. A rather generous 1 out of 10 for global leadership.
Japan’s cultural exports might win more attention if it had a truly global broadcaster like the BBC.
Like Roger Federer’s backhand of late, Switzerland has been misfiring on the soft power front. The country’s banking sector, once highly regarded for its discreet and sophisticated service, took another hit in the wake of the recent UBS trader scandal.
The rightwing People’s Party, with its anti-immigrant platform and racist campaign posters, continues to tarnish the Alpine nation’s image as a land of tolerance. Even its hospitality sector has hit a rough patch due to the strong Swiss franc.
Still, its embassies and consulates continue to run like, well, clockwork, often looking after the interests of others in the world’s toughest neighbourhoods. The country’s reputation for educating tomorrow’s elite is also intact – its boarding schools enrol more than 80,000 foreigners and alumni include US senator John Kerry and France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
And while its European neighbours are struggling, to say the least, with both their economy and currency, the Swiss franc has become a byword for stability. There is something to be said for being, well, boring.
Number of embassies and consulates: 143
Olympics gold medals at last games (summer and winter): 8
Number of cultural missions: 22
Average spend per tourist: $1,720 (€1,244)
Environmental treaties signed: 23
Number of think-tanks: 66
Fifa football ranking: 18
Panel comment: Some respected business brands, an impressive airline and airports but, Roger Federer aside, few soft power icons.
The Swiss are seen as honest brokers in foreign disputes. Time to dispatch more peacekeepers to hot zones.
It’s difficult to define Canada. What’s the cuisine? There isn’t one. Language? Well, there are two – and that’s a can of worms, given there’s a concentration of French Canadians in Quebec that would still rather form their own country.
OK, then – maybe they’re environmentalists? No, they’ve enjoyed mining in the increasingly de-iced North. Or they’re just a bit quieter than Americans in restaurants.
Immigration is tightening, and Canada decided to act the part of pawn to the UK, rather than the US. And, don’t forget, it’s the “Harper Government”, not the government of Canada – as if prime minister Stephen Harper helps the nation’s brand power.
Canada’s success has always been on being less abrasive that its neighbour to the south, paired with a few inoffensive female vocalists and some friendly endeavours into the easily marketable bits of foreign diplomacy (peacekeepers, anyone?).
Number of think-tanks: 97
Attendees to top museums: 1.4 million
Olympic gold medals at last games (summer and winter): 17
Number of cultural missions: 0
Total tourist numbers: 16 million
Number of albums in global top 50: 5
Panel comment: What Canada loses on global leadership and cuisine (go on, name a Canadian dish), it makes up for with business brands and female singer-songwriters.
Canada used to choose its battles quite wisely, and it’s much better at being one of the best of the juniors. Less focus on the G20, more on La Francophonie.
The Dutch have cultivated a breezy, liberal soft power outlook. But it’s a little too relaxed. The nation that gave us Vermeer, Van Gogh and Mondrian could try harder to sell its arty, phlegmatic culture abroad.
The problem is, while the Dutch are busy being one of the happiest nations in Europe, its far-right minority often makes the international headlines, with even talk of banning the Koran. There’s a danger the country’s image might get tarred with the same brush.
None of this is helped by powerful foreign outposts of the super-conservative Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, Asia and North America which don’t exactly sell its image as a modern, free-thinking, European nation.
Percentage of GDP spent on foreign aid: 0.82 per cent
Fifa football ranking: 2
Number of foreign correspondents in country: 120
Environmental treaties signed: 26
Number of cultural missions: 2
Annual visitors to top museums: 2.9 million
Panel comment: The perfect example of how a single football match can taint a country’s image: the thuggery shown by the Dutch team in last year’s World Cup Final. The country’s art galleries feel a little tired, too.
In the past intrepid Dutch merchants scattered their influence from Cape Town to Brazil. The Netherlands should channel some of this pioneer spirit and seek to promote its diverse, tolerant, canal boat dwelling bonhomie abroad.
Norway is known for its Nobel prizes and valiant peace-brokering efforts in the Middle East. But some of its soft power is so soft it’s actually covert. The Norwegians are involved in hundreds of soft power projects but very rarely bother to tell anyone.
This year they might do well to ratchet up the volume a little. The Nordic nation does a great job managing its oil ethically (and assisting developing oil nations with revenue management) but it needs put a little more oomph into its creative industries. Where is the Norwegian Noma? Or, for that matter the Norwegian Henrik Vibskov?
The Utøya island tragedy has dented the country’s paradisiacal image but also revealed its citizens to be hardy, brave and profoundly committed to healing its society.
Percentage of GDP spent on foreign aid: 1.06 per cent
Olympic gold medals at last games (summer and winter): 12
Number of Unesco World Heritage sites: 7
Annual number of tourists: 4.7 million
Number of cultural missions: 0
Membership of international organisations: 68
Environmental treaties signed: 25
Panel comment: The Nobel prizes and massive oil wealth both give Norway an impressive international niche. Its business brands are overshadowed by its Nordic neighbours.
Norway needs to apply some of its soft power strategy to fixing up its own shop. It’s already used soft power measures such as multi-national choirs to artfully solve boarder disputes with neighbours such as Russia. A little more introspection would go a miss.
Nancy? Elissa? Haifa? From Algiers to Sana’a, everyone knows who you are talking about. Lebanese pop stars have a huge following across the Arab world.
As it can barely keep its territory together, Lebanon has no pretensions of expanding its sphere of influence regionally, except perhaps by exporting its fun-loving, slightly risqué lifestyle to its more serious neighbours.
Supported by satellite music channels such as Rotana Clip (funded by Saudi billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal, whose mother is Lebanese) and Melody TV, the Lebanese pop industry has managed to captivate audiences across the Middle East with sophisticated music videos constructed like mini dramas. Fluttering in skimpy dresses designed by Lebanon’s couturiers, the girls are usually chased by a handsome beau.
In the run down capitals of the Arab world, such idealised visions are a great escape from a dreary reality. “It’s a bit of a paradox that Lebanese singers are so popular in conservative societies like Egypt,” admits Lebanese DJ Leyla Nahas. The open attitude towards sex in the videos, which many cafés and homes air continuously, releases – to a degree – the frustrations of many young Arabs. If in doubt, watch one of Haifa Wehbe’s steamy performances: the explosive diva might be offering an erotic dream, but it is also a dream for more freedom.
Though it has slipped slightly, Denmark’s ranking is still impressive considering that for the past 10 years its centre-right government was propped up in a coalition by the highly xenophobic Dansk Folkeparti.
Great damage was done to Denmark’s foreign relations, particularly with Islamic countries. The feeling now is that, with a new Social Democratic (and female) prime minister, Denmark’s soft power should once again be on the ascendant, not least as the country will take over the EU presidency in the first half of 2012. The new regime is already making noises about being more welcoming to foreigners in the labour market, and has radical environmental goals. The latter is no altruistic gesture: green technologies are a major export earner for the Danes, with China the great prize.
Meanwhile, Denmark’s cultural ambassadors – such as architect Bjarke Ingels, chef René Redzepi and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki – are doing fine work promoting Brand Denmark in their respective fields.
Percentage of GDP spent on foreign aid: 0.88 per cent
Number of think-tanks: 27
Number of Nobel Laureates: 13
Annual visitors to top museums: 525,000
Annual number of tourists: 9 million
Number of foreign correspondents in country: 80
Fifa football ranking: 10
Panel comment: No stand-out performers and a lack of global leadership, but perhaps that’s something new prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt might be able to sort out.
Its success in exporting its green tech values to the world will continue to be vital to Denmark, both economically and in terms of reputation.
Spain’s soft power policy-makers might have a little more room to manoeuvre now the country has rid itself of ETA’s terror threat. In October the Basque separatist group said it was giving up guns for good, ending a period of violence that has claimed 829 lives in four decades.
Not that Spain has ever had a huge problem convincing the world to admire its sunny beaches, languorous siestas and stylish, earthy nationals. Tourists flocked here during General Francisco Franco’s 36-year dictatorship when bikinis were banned.
They are certainly not banned any more. Spain has done a great job of rehabilitating its image and projecting an appearance of a sunny nation with a spring in its step. It’s even managed to make sherry cool.
Number of embassies and consulates: 190
Annual visitors to top museums: 9 million
Twitter followers for the foreign minister: 1,337
Permanent missions to multilateral organisations: 10
Foreign correspondents in country: 300
Number of cultural missions: 82
Annual number of tourists: 52.6 million
Panel comment: Decent airports, famous food and the world’s best – and classiest – football team. The quality and diversity of its tourist offering remains pretty much unbeatable.
It may not be quite the power it was in the 16th century, but Spain’s linguistic advantage gives it a firm footing in Latin America. A little more of an active push in overseas aid wouldn’t go a miss. Cultural exports such as Pedro Almodóvar and Ferran Adrià don’t do anything by halves and neither should its soft power tsars.
It is a country which has perhaps long been associated with power of the harder variety. South Korea, however, is fast evolving: just as it transformed itself into an economic powerhouse over several heady decades after the Second World War, so it is now tapping into its soft power assets.
In addition to its status as a leading technology hub, elevated diplomatic standing after hosting last year’s G20 summit and its heavy promotion of a high-quality “Made in Korea” brand, there are free elections, a democratic political system and freedom of speech – which, bearing in mind its geography, are not to be taken for granted.
Perhaps most impressive are the nation’s efforts to sell its cultural assets overseas, from kimchi to K-pop. The Korean Wave movement is the biggest soft power success story of the region, acquiring global – and still growing – adulation over the past decade, with the fevered export of South Korea’s pop culture, from music to drama to anime to computer games.
Percentage of GDP spent on foreign aid: 0.1 per cent
Asylum seekers per 1,000 population: 0.01
Number of cultural missions: 16
Total number of tourists: 8.6 million
Number of albums in global top 50: 2
Annual attendance at top museums: 5.1 million
Number of Unesco World Heritage sites: 10
Panel comment: From Hyundai to Samsung, South Korea possesses a bevy of well-respected business brands. As much as we like our K-pop, few travel outside the region.
A greater focus on tourism infrastructure to elevate it from the lower echelons of Asia’s top holiday destination rankings wouldn’t go amiss.
Sauna, sisu and Santa Claus are what Finland is known for. They may be clichés but as soft power assets and means of creating good PR for a country, none of them are too bad. And if some of you don’t know the meaning of the second word, it is Finnish for endurance and an attitude of never giving up – something that the many Finnish NHL hockey players and Formula 1 drivers show proof of almost daily. But Finland does have other strengths to bring to the table.
For the past few years, its education system has gained much international fame, and its core ingredients – highly educated teachers, a high average level of skills and the importance of seeing every pupil – are now spreading even outside the country’s borders. And in 2012 Helsinki will be World Design Capital, which means that Finnish design, famous in the 1950s, will no doubt start attracting attention again.
Number of cultural missions: 17
Total number of tourists: 3.6 million
Albums in global top 50: 0
Foreign correspondents in country: 100
Fifa football ranking: 78
Olympic gold medals at last games (summer and winter): 1
Number of foreign students: 12,596
Panel comment: Finnair scores points, but it’s a struggle to think of any Finnish global soft power icons. Nokia stands apart as a recognisable Finnish brand – the other contenders are still too local.
In January 2012, Finland elects a new president. Tarja Halonen has been a good, but low-profile, representative for the country. Now, the Finns have a golden chance to choose a head of state who will put the country on the international map in a positive way.
Every year in September and October, the eyes of the world are on two small Scandinavian countries as the Nobel prizes are announced. When Alfred Nobel wrote his testament in 1895, he probably couldn’t guess what a powerful political tool he created for the then united Sweden-Norway. The Nobel prizes let the two countries bask in the glory of academia, peace-making and literature every year, enforcing their images as nations that cherish human rights, culture and education.
What’s more, many of the prizes can be used to directly push for a certain development or set of values in world politics. The peace prize is the most obvious example.
“There is often an aspirational aspect to the prize. In addition to what has been achieved, we hope that more can be done,” says Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute in Oslo. “For instance, when Mandela and de Klerk got the prize in 1993, they were very close to the finishing line, and they did cross it. In other cases, like this year, there is still a long way to go, as is the case with both Yemen and Liberia [the nations of 2011’s three female prize-winners].”
Even the prize for economic sciences often represents taking a stand. In 2008, for instance, it was awarded to Paul Krugman, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration.
When it comes to soft power, Italy still sells itself short. It’s hard to make a good first impression though when you have Alitalia for your national carrier and Silvio Berlusconi sitting in the prime minister’s office. The Italian leader has left a negative imprint on national media and has few admirers abroad – it doesn’t help that the country is a G7 laggard on foreign aid.
No surprise then that Berlusconi’s own attempt to market the Bel Paese, with a website and TV adverts featuring schmaltzy music and dated imagery, was a flop. With world-class brands from fashion to furniture that still surprise and an attractive landscape of mountains and coastline, the country should pull in more visitors – rival Spain gets nine million more tourists a year with a leaner portfolio.
Infrastructure, of course, could be better. Its airports lack the good design found elsewhere and better air and sea links are needed to move travellers around the peninsula. Still, the appeal of the slow-paced Italian way of life, with its emphasis on quality food and drink, is hard to resist.
Annual attendance at top museums: 8.6 million
Number of think-tanks: 90
Fifa football ranking: 6
Unesco World Heritage sites: 47
Foreign correspondents in country: 525
Number of cultural missions: 164
Annual number of tourists: 43.6 million
Panel comment: Top marks for cuisine and bottom of the class for global leadership. What more did you expect? World-class business brands and culture boost Italy’s score.
Borrow from Madrid’s “I Need Spain” campaign and launch a media blitz that projects a modern-day dolce vita.
Hobbits and rugby. No one likes it when their country gets boiled down to two or three bullet points, but at least New Zealand can rely on some well-known staples to give its brand a boost. The successful hosting of the recent Rugby World Cup showed the country’s best side – fiercely competitive on the pitch, friendly and welcoming off it.
Tourism is still a big earner, and while the crowds that surged down under following The Lord of the Rings films may have lessened, the country has a natural beauty that is famous around the world.
Politically, New Zealand remains a country without much clout outside of Australasia – in fact, its influence has probably decreased somewhat since the days of Helen Clark. Current prime minister John Key is little known internationally, while Clark is now the head of the UN Development Programme.
Number of embassies and consulates: 63
Number of think-tanks: 6
Number of universities in global top 200: 1
Olympic gold medals at last games (summer and winter): 3
Number of Unesco World Heritage sites: 3
Annual number of tourists: 2.5 million
Number of cultural missions: 0
Panel comment: The successful Rugby World Cup in October gave the Kiwis a small short-term boost, while the improving Air New Zealand should have a longer-term impact.
New Zealand could play a stronger role within the Asia/Australasia region – from aid in East Timor to trade across southeast Asia.
Russia is preparing to embark on a series of major sports events – an unprecedented opportunity for it to open up to the world and recapture its Soviet-era sporting ascendancy. The 2013 World University Games and 2014 Winter Olympics will be followed by the World Aquatics Championships in 2015 and the football World Cup in 2018.
They represent a huge outlay in infrastructure, as well as an attempt by sports-mad Vladimir Putin to move Russia from the Cold War image of sour-faced child gymnasts into a friendlier, more global arena. “All countries view sport as an incredibly high-return investment, from boosting the health of their own nation to improving the interchange with other countries,” says Rupert Wainwright, president of Adore Creative, the ad agency that promoted these sporting bids.
The investment in these projects is gigantic but the effort in creating a positive image of Russia in the world – with stories of corruption and mafia thuggery as rife in Russia’s sporting arena as they are in its political culture – is a similarly huge undertaking.
“Ahead of the vote on Sochi we ran a warm-up campaign, ‘Russia: the Door is Open’, which presented a different, unexpected view of Russia,” says Wainwright. “There was such a negative stereotype about Russia that all we needed to do was show people enough so they would think, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad.’”
Why is effective aid important to a country’s reputation? There are many issues that affect a country’s reputation, including whether it is seen to act solely in its own interests or in the wider interests of reducing conflict, protecting the environment or fighting poverty. By giving aid and giving aid well, a country can demonstrate that it is not concerned solely with a narrow definition of national self-interest, but that it is motivated also by issues of fairness and justice, and that it understands the reality of global economic, environmental and political interdependence. This helps to strengthen its standing on the world stage.
Does aid translate into better opportunities for a country’s businesses? Aid should be motivated by a desire to alleviate poverty, rather than the desire to “buy” better opportunities for a country’s businesses. Indeed, formally tying aid in this way has been shown to reduce its effectiveness in tackling poverty. However, on a macro scale, it is clear that reducing poverty in developing countries creates new markets.
The UK has stuck to most of its promises at Gleneagles. Italy hasn’t. How has that affected how both countries are viewed in Africa? It’s great that the UK has stuck to most of its promises on aid. It’s scandalous that Italy hasn’t. There are a large number of factors that shape the ways in which the UK and Italy are viewed in Africa, with perhaps significant variations across what is a huge continent. But there is little doubt that the UK’s reputation and influence in Africa, the Commonwealth – and the rest of the world – is enhanced by the fact that promises on aid quantity and quality are being kept.
Austria may have given the world Freud, but it tends not to overthink its soft power strategy.
This year it has perched Antony Gormley’s ubiquitous rusty iron sculpture series on the mountains of Vorarlberg in an attempt to sell Austria’s countryside as a sunny summer destination. But the central European country is still synonymous with the snowy Alps.
Either way, it’s a falling off. The Habsburg dynasty ruled Europe for hundreds of years and Austria’s once mighty influence is now just short of negligible.
Austria’s soft power needs a session of Freudian soul-searching. Cities such as Salzburg and even Graz have shown real creative courage in arts and architecture and the incredible Kunsthaus Bregenz continues to impress.
However, the country needs to nurture Vienna’s nascent avant-garde, ditch its nominal commitment to neutrality and forge a sure-footed global identity that goes way beyond Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Captain Ludwig von Trapp and schnitzel.
Percentage of GDP spent on foreign aid: 0.3 per cent
Number of think-tanks: 41
Number of Nobel Laureates: 19
Fifa football ranking: 72
Annual number of tourists: 22 million
Annual attendance at top museums: 2 million
Number of foreign students: 59,617
Panel comment: So-so across the board. Cuisine and culture both feel a bit tired; business brands and global leadership are all but non-existent.
Austria needs to be less insular. There are good things about bourgeois Viennese intellectualism, but reaching out a bit wouldn’t hurt.
The home of Nato and the EU’s bureaucratic giant works hard to slough off its drab, technocratic image. Perhaps it’s the feuding Flemish and Francophone schism that divides the country, but Belgium’s soft power lacks gusto. And no one can really forgive King Leopold II for all his murderous misdemeanours in the Congo in the 19th century. No amount of poky wheat beer and artisanal chocolate will do it. And Antwerp’s diamond trade doesn’t help things either.
But, when it does it well, Belgium does soft power with an edge. Electronica exports like 2manydjs and designs from the likes Dries Van Noten all project an air of a breezy modern nation with an international lilt. Belgium should work on pushing a coherent national image that reflects its international stature.
It should also perhaps work on forming a government. While things may be ticking along all right at home, it does little for the national brand abroad.
Number of embassies and consulates: 124
Number of think-tanks: 52
Universities in the global top 200: 3
Number of foreign correspondents in country: 400
Number of Unesco World Heritage sites: 10
Number of cultural missions: 0
Annual number of tourists: 7.2 million
Panel comment: Is it too obvious to ask you to name a famous Belgian? Or make a joke about the lack of government? Beer and chocolates only get a country so far.
A fix? How about ripping it up and starting again. Brussels could become a city-state, while Flanders and Wallonia could go their separate ways.
It’s been a rough year for China’s image abroad. The disappearance of artist Ai Weiwei prompted protests at Chinese embassies across the globe and the deadly crash of a high-speed train in the city of Wenzhou – and the subsequent attempted cover-up – put a dampener on China’s ambitions to rival Japan as the world’s next hi-tech superstar.
The country’s attempts at pushing its soft power by leasing space in New York’s Times Square to advertise its state-run news agency, Xinhua, and display a video promoting Chinese models and billionaires, also fell flat.
The one bright spot for China has come from an unlikely source: tattooed tennis player Li Na. She not only broke through as Asia’s first Grand Slam winner at the French Open; she charmed the world media with her quirky personality, showing that when it comes to making friends abroad, Chinese individuals have far more success than expensive advertising.
Percentage of GDP spent on foreign aid: 0 per cent
Number of think-tanks: 425
Number of cultural missions: 323
Annual number of tourists: 55.6 million
Environmental treaties signed: 17
Number of foreign students: 51,038
Olympic gold medals at last games (summer and winter): 56
Panel comment: A mixed bag. Has great artists but locks them up. Has great political power but seems unsure about using it. And while it may be the second largest economy it has no recognisable global brands.
Cultivate more Li Nas by allowing athletes, artists and film-makers to engage more freely with the world. Chinese culture sells when it doesn’t feel staged.
“Every object in our collection is a statement. It tells the story of cultural life and of civilisation. The Great Exhibition of 1851, from which the V&A originates, presented Britain to the world. Nowadays our collections represent almost every nation. We don’t only present, we exchange – culture to culture. When our exhibition World Ceramics: Masterpieces from the V&A opened in Syria in 2008 the 120 highlights from the V&A’s collection were joined by objects from the National Museum of Damascus. For the visitors, we hope it offered a meaningful engagement with their own cultural history.