Thursday 26 November 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 26/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Tiers of influence

When the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, unveiled the government’s spending plans yesterday afternoon, one figure caught our eye – that of the nation’s foreign-aid budget, cut by a staggering £4bn (€4.48bn), representing a drop from 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent. While it’s true that 2020 has been a tough year – and, financially, 2021 isn’t looking as though it will be much better – the choice to slash Britain’s foreign aid is disappointing, if not all that surprising to those who have been paying attention. Rather it’s the latest indication that the UK’s approach to soft power and its standing on the global stage has drifted.

Sadly the UK isn’t alone in this regard, as we reveal in our Soft Power Survey – the annual measure of how nations fare in promoting areas such as culture, tourism and foreign aid – which is published inside Monocle’s December/January double issue. We report on how too many countries have been quick to ditch their diplomatic duties when faced with the challenges of the global pandemic and an economic crunch. From the UK to the US, Brazil to China, many nations around the world have turned inward. As a result, they didn’t make our list at all.

Although there’s no upside to major world powers shunning soft power, the turmoil of 2020 has presented some opportunities for other nations to make a good impression on the global stage. From old soft-power stalwarts (guten tag, Germany) to countries riding high on star power (New Zealand) and a few new nations that cracked our list for the first time (Greece is one but I’m afraid you’ll have to pick up the issue to find out the others), our survey highlights the value of diplomatic dedication in times of uncertainty. Let this serve as a lesson for the UK as it prepares to leave the European Union and recast its role in the world. A successful, globally focused nation can’t simply worry about what it’s protecting at home; it also needs to think about what it’s projecting abroad.

Image: Younes Klouche

Diplomacy / Switzerland

Plus ça change

For a born-and-raised Swiss national, the combination of “Switzerland” and “power” in one sentence sounds wrong – however “soft” said power might be (writes Benno Zogg). We take pride in Switzerland as a gorgeous, prosperous nation of democracy and stability, but we are also taught to think modestly of our country – a neutral state surrounded by more powerful neighbours. But increasingly the Swiss government is not only aware of the world’s positive associations with the white cross on a red square but is also actively advertising it. Switzerland is campaigning to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2023-24 under the slogan “plus for peace”. Swiss diplomats and NGOs already facilitate negotiations and help mediate many conflicts around the globe but ultimately Switzerland needs to back its “plus for peace” identity with actual substance: political steadiness, good-quality products and solidarity as a responsible global actor. After all, soft power is more easily lost than won. For more, check out our Swiss special, featuring a full slate of interviews with Switzerland’s leaders, including its president, in Monocle’s December/January issue.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / USA

Friends reunited?

Joe Biden this week declared that “America’s back” as he unveiled the foreign-policy team to be tasked with turning his approach into a reality. But does the world really want a return to the past? It depends where you look. Although the European Union and Nato are looking forward to a renewal of their alliance and closer co-operation, many Asian countries welcomed the Trump administration’s tougher approach to China, especially over the South China Sea.

Israel has enjoyed a close relationship and normalised relations with a number of Arab nations, which took to the Trump administration’s unorthodox approach, its isolation of Iran and shrugging off of human-rights abuses. Africa and Latin America, meanwhile, will be looking for Biden (pictured) to restore the US’s promise as a beacon of democracy – or else many nations might be tempted by the more autocratic but efficient approach of China. Read more from our global correspondents about what the world wants from the US in our [December/January issue]((

Image: Netflix

Culture / Spain

Screen time

A TV hit can boost the international profile of a country just like a savvy diplomatic posting – think about what Borgen has done for Denmark. Spanish series have also been on the up for a while now; remember Paquita Salas and the huge success of La Casa de Papel (released as Money Heist in the UK). But now a new rush of productions is putting the Galician region firmly in the spotlight. Galician noir is hot on the heels of the Scandis thanks to series such as the small-town investigation O Sabor das Margaridas (Bitter Daisies), police thriller La Unidad and murder-mystery Auga Seca. “Galicia has been a creative hub since the end of the Franco dictatorship,” says Ghaleb Jaber Martínez, one of the creators of O Sabor das Margaridas (pictured). “Moving a thriller to a small village pulls viewers into the narrative while they discover a new culture via the landscape, traditions and language.” To read more about all the series you need to get on your list – from northern Spain and beyond – head to the December/January issue’s seasonal Culture Special.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Diego Maradona

World at his feet

Of all Argentina’s soft-power exports – and that includes the Pope – perhaps no one has meant as much to the country as Diego Armando Maradona. Yesterday morning Argentines learnt of the death in Buenos Aires of their most famous footballer, who succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 60. There was weeping on news channels and a declaration of three days of national mourning by president Alberto Fernández. Maradona transcended sport and, despite his off-pitch dramas that ranged from drug addiction to dallying with leftist politics – all of which provided tabloid and documentary fodder – he was viewed by many in mythical terms. Maradona, who rose from poverty in Buenos Aires’ southern periphery to represent Argentina across the world, was the country writ large. He was fallible and capable of saying the wrong things but his dribbling skills brought a silky swagger to football, helping to put a Latin American nation at the bottom of the southern hemisphere firmly on the map. Listen to our full obituary of Diego Maradona on Monocle 24’s The Late Edition.

M24 / The Chiefs

Simonetta Sommaruga

Monocle’s editor-in-chief, Tyler Brûlé, sits down with Simonetta Sommaruga, president of the Swiss Confederation, in her office in Bern. They discuss the country’s practical approach to the pandemic and why it worked so well. Plus: how Switzerland can take more of a role on the world stage, its ambition for a seat on the UN Security Council and why nothing beats face-to-face diplomacy.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: December/January issue, 2021

Our annual Soft Power Survey reveals the countries whose cultural ambassadors, diplomatic missions, skilled messaging and tasty food have seen them make the grade in 2020. The December/January double issue also looks ahead to a new era of US foreign policy, goes on a culinary tour of Switzerland and wraps up in the season’s coolest coats. Available now at The Monocle Shop


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