News & Opinion on how countries are aiming to utilise 'Soft Power', 'Public Diplomacy' and 'Nation Branding'
The past couple of days have seen a number of articles appearing in the British national newspapers basking in the glory that Britain is the “most powerful” nation on the world. While some might feel that claim ended over 100 years ago, according to the latest Monocle 2012 survey, Britain is in fact the most powerful country in the world when it comes to ‘soft power’ and ‘public diplomacy’.
In case any of you didn’t know, the survey, which saw Britain topple the United States for the first time, ranks nations according to their ‘soft power’; the amount of attractiveness and thus influence a country has within the world. Ranking nations according to their standard of government, diplomatic infrastructure, cultural output, capacity for education and appeal to business, the list is calculated using around 50 factors that indicate the use of ‘soft power’, including the number of cultural missions, Olympic medals, the quality of a country’s architecture and business brands.
While the resurgence might have started with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, which helped pull in 29 million tourists in 2011 and re-energised the Royal Family, 2012 has been a bumper year for the UK. The Queens Diamond Jubilee continued the display of British heritage, the hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games, including a spectacular opening and closing ceremony, brought worldwide attention to the country, while the country’s sporting successes, including Bradley Wiggins conquering the Tour de France, Team GB winning 65 medals at the Olympics and Andy Murray winning his first Grand Slam title in New York, the export of 22 Number 1 albums overseas and the global franchise of James Bond have ensured that Britain has projected more positive influence around the world than any other nation.
In summing up Britain’s rise in the ‘soft power’ rankings, Xenia Dormandy, a senior fellow and US expert at Chatham House stated: “With the Olympics taking place here, which got far more fanfare internationally than domestically…the UK has had a very international presence this year and it has been the best of the British”.
The list, which also saw Germany move up one place to third, South Korea move from 14th to 11th and Brazil making one of the biggest jumps from 21st to 17th is printed below. Hopefully over the coming weeks we will look at each country in detail.
1. Great Britain:
As stated above, Britain leapfrogged America, thanks to global events such as the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee which reminded the world of Britain’s achievements and influence. Other achievements including sporting, music and film success ensured that “the traditional view of the United Kingdom has become tired and clichéd. From sport to design, music to film the UK of the 21st century is rather different than its previous incarnations”.
2. United States of America:
Despite losing top spot the American brand is still one of the best out there with the immense reach and appeal of its cultural outputs ensuring that it remains a strong one. A forward looking nation with beautiful natural scenery and a tourist friendly-infrastructure, leading the world in investment in world food and health initiatives, American ‘soft power’ has been dented by its insular outlook during the recent Presidential election and damaging perceptions of its conduct abroad including overseas occupations and unmanned drone attacks.
Up one place from fourth, Germany’s high position is no surprise. 2012 has seen it cement their reputation as the “undisputed leading of a creaking European Union”, while Germany have a sturdy brand power and on every front – economic, cultural, intellectual, sporting – the country stands strong, and its ‘public diplomacy’ budget is consistent with the biggest spenders. One of the best networked states in Europe with
France drops a place in the ranking but continues to be known for its cultural promotion efforts. Underpinned by nearly 1,000 cultural missions abroad, French ‘soft power’ is nostalgic and symbolic, remaining a world leader in art galleries, museum and cuisine. However, with the impact of the Olympics taking place in London rather than Paris, an overreliance on this nostalgia, a new President struggling to make an impression on the world stage and economic uncertainty have seen it replaced in the top three by Germany.
Another mover in the list, up one from 6th, Sweden are consistently viewed around the world in a favourable light. Described as “handsome, hi-tech and healthy”, Sweden has a high degree of trust internationally. Although home to some of the world’s most well-loved brands including Ikea, ABBA and H&M, it has been argued these brands have ensured Sweden struggles to get past stereotypes in international perceptions.
The Asian country, Japan with its unique cuisine, artistic output, cinematic contribution and interesting pop culture is burnishing its international image. Shortcomings include a globalised world bombarded with multiple images and cultural products from other Asian countries including China, South Korea which means it is unlikely for the West to be attracted to only things Japanese, and a failure to overcome its burden of history. However, while additional effort is required to convince the international community of Japan’s leadership role, as Japanese exports are becoming more in demand, influence will continue to grow.
As Monocle has noted Denmark’s revamped approach to soft power, centred on its design industry has seen a rise of five places for the Danes. Additionally, the popularity of television programs, the appeal of Scandinavia, and strengths in music, art, architecture and design have strengthed Danish ‘soft power’.
Switzerland consolidates its eight place finish this year with its consistent and reliable brand with is “associated with purity, integrity, trustworthiness and competence”. A veritable grass roots democracy, respect for citizen rights and an emphasis on quality ensures the Swiss punches above its weight.
Australia drops four places from last year as while Australia continues to have a universally strong brand, a failure to realise its soft power potential, and a lack of diplomatic skills which don’t appear friendly to the outside world have seen the fall occur.
With a stable political system, a resilient economy that has weathered the worst of the global crisis, a tolerant and open society one would expect Canada to be a strong nation brand and have a large amount of ‘soft power’, ranking higher than 10th. However, Canada doesn’t make quite as a big a cultural contribution as it could and with an undefined identity, part of the country’s problem is that much of what it does on the world stage is refracted through a US prism. Down one from last year.
11. South Korea:
Up two from last year, South Korea have worked to develop their ‘soft power’ credentials, hosting a number of international summits, performing well at the Olympics and solidifying its position as a driver of innovation. The emergence of Gangnam Style has ensured that it continues in its role as the pop powerhouse of Asia.
Norway continues to punch above its weight as Norway have built up a reputation as a “near-perfect society with natural sources, success multiculturalism, a high-level education system and environmental responsibility”. Being a small Scandinavian country, it is often confused with its neighbours and lacks a non-governmental national brand, unlike Sweden and Denmark, and thus relies more upon its government to build the country’s image. Although the country won respect for its dignified reaction to the murders of Anders Breivik, Norway’s brand has suffered. The country drops in the standings, but by only one.
A country seen as the “ultimate expression of the organised and respectful society where civil liberties and quality of life achieve top values”, Finland ranks well. Over the past year, Helsinki has been named as the world design capital while Finland has increasingly become an important air hub for Europe. Up two.
With a strong fashion industry, the beauty of Italian sites and a country which promotes art and culture, Italy is a country that perhaps should be higher. Although up from 16th, continuing perceptions of political corruption, typical stereotypes and clichés abound and handicapped by economic uncertainty ensures that Italy remains lowly, despite the removal of Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister.
15. The Netherlands:
Unable to hang on to its top ten position from 2011, the Netherlands have dropped five places as the country’s far right politics continues to be shocking. Despite this the Dutch have a lot going for it including easily recognisable images including clogs, tulips and Van Gogh, while Dutch embassies are finally starting to project the country as a place of attractive contemporary culture. Will the Dutch be able to halt their slide?
After transforming itself from a fascist dictatorship to a low-rent vacation spot for the British and German working class and then to a cutting edge cultural destination, Spain is sunny and cool again, despite its political turbulence. Its sunshine, cinema and food and football remain immensely popular worldwide, although the Eurozone crisis has struck here as well. Down three from 13th.
One of the biggest movers in this year’s list, Brazil has jumped into the top twenty as it continues its role as South America’s leading nation. An emerging global power, Brazil is widely seen as a country that is both ‘welcoming’ and ‘fun-loving’, oozing self-confidence. The country will continue to gain increasing international interest ahead of hosting both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Despite these successes, and while Brazil’s ‘soft power’ remains relatively strong, the transfer of leadership from Lula to Rousseff has changed the tone of Brazilian ‘soft power’. Despite its increasing economic power, troubles with corruption persist.
A second successive 18th place finish for Austria, with the record breaking jumper Felix Baumgartner helping to shed Austria’s old fashioned image and “present Austria’s modern technological development as well as technological improvement and economic performance”.
Belgium stays at 19th as it “does the dull stuff well” including politics and diplomacy. It however remains a nation divided and with the European Union suffering widespread criticism, with its headquarters situated in Brussels, Belgium has its reputation dragged down.
Another new entry into the top twenty, Turkey has undertaken a concerted ‘public diplomacy’ and ‘soft power’ effort. Playing a major role in international platforms including the G-20, the Organisation of the Islamic Co-Operation and NATO, the country has been at the heart of decision-making processes regionally and internationally. Being an exotic blend of East and West it retains a unique culture, while its unique location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia has made Turkey a bridge between the two continents.