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Monocle’s fifth annual soft-power survey, again carried out in conjunction with governance think-tank The Institute for Government, has an undeniably controversial winner. The US may not, at first, appear to be a nation that favours the soft over the hard. But as our Washington correspondent Sasha Issenberg explains on the next page, the US’s soft power spreads from the phone in your pocket to the art on your wall. Americans and their inventions have a far greater influence over our lives than any other nationality.

The very idea of soft power still divides opinion; there are some policy-makers and commentators who turn their noses up at the concept. They tend to be the same people who beat the militaristic drum every time a crisis erupts. As we hope our survey demonstrates, soft power can work alongside hard power and – at its best – make the use of military force far less likely.

Apart from the US there are other big winners this year. Germany, while dropping to number two, remains top of the charts in Europe. New Zealand is the highest riser, while Greece and Argentina break into the top 30 for the first time.

We hope you will find some of the results surprising. And for those who can’t find their nation here, we hope there are examples that show you how to make the grade next time around.

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