The 2016 Soft Power 30

Last summer, I shared and discussed the first results of the newly launched Soft Power 30, an annual index of the world’s most successful nations in terms of “soft power” — the culture, values, international image, and other factors that allow a country to influence the rest of the world. Portland Communications, which conducts the survey, explains what exactly soft power is and why it is so important to understand.

Soft power shuns the traditional foreign policy tools of carrot and stick, seeking instead to achieve influence by building networks, communicating compelling narratives, establishing international rules, and drawing on the resources that make a country naturally attractive to the world.

In short, “hard power is push; soft power is pull”.

Joseph Nye, the originator of the concept, initially set out three primary sources of soft power as he developed the concept. Nye’s three pillars of soft power are: political values, culture, and foreign policy. But within these three categories, the individual sources of soft power are manifold and varied.

Our index builds on those three pillars, using over 75 metrics across six sub-indices of objective data and seven categories of new international polling data.

In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, where warfare and conquest are no longer acceptable means of fulfilling national interests (albeit not fully extinguished either), the ability to win over hearts and minds is as integral to power and prosperity as any military. This is especially true in an era where hundreds of millions of people regularly visit, study, work, and settle down in nations across the world, offering the most attractive destinations valuable labor, skills, knowledge, and other human resources.

So which countries have been excelling in this key dimension of power? Unsurprisingly, the top performers include the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, all of which cultural outputs, from film to music to art, are known worldwide. Of course, it helps that they are wealthy and populous, since these resources make cultivating and projecting culture much easier — hence why few poor nations made the cut. Many of the highest ranking nations also have a long history of being great powers, giving them a legacy of connections — through colonization, language, and settlement — that allow their cultural and diplomatic influence to disseminate.

But there were some new and surprising contenders in this exclusive club as well, such as Hungary, Russia, and Argentina, none of which may strike the average American as prominent cultural powerhouses, but each of which are influential in some particular way — Hungary in its rich mathematical and musical achievements, Russia in its renewed leadership role in global affairs, and Argentina in its benign international image, to name but a couple of examples for each.

Here are the full results:

Soft Power 30 (2016)

The original chart allows you to click on each country to see its score in each of the seven sub-indices — such as digital presence, economic enterprise, and global public opinion — as well as a summary of the strengths, weaknesses, and overall trajectory of the their soft power status. If you are so inclined, you can download the 120-page report here (PDF).

What are your thoughts on the results?


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