Methods and Champions of Soft Power

Alongside a liberalising global economy have grown new and innovative methods of promoting national power. 50, even 30, years ago, before the beginning of the mass computer age, power, or hard power, was exerted through force and capital. These days, international influence can be more subtle, in the form of soft power, as discussed by Joseph Nye – i.e. the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than force or coerce. This is most commonly achieved through culture and perception. Monocle Magazine and the London-based Institute for Government recently compiled the fourth annual Soft Power Survey, to discern which of the world’s states has the most influence through unconventional means. The previous winners were the US, France and the UK. In 2014, however, a new victor has emerged triumphant.

The Winner: Germany

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

Angela Merkel has been credited as the most powerful woman in the world, and with her role at the centre of European political economy, as well as in international affairs worldwide, she has been spreading German influence to great effect. Traditional and non-traditional German industries have been growing in stature (with the ever-respected efficiency of most German produce), as has its cultural accessibility in the form of media platforms and tourism; education (10 universities in the global top 200) is also a valuable soft asset. Other, more trivial, forms of soft power have also been on the rise, including the number of German footballer playing in the world’s best leagues (24), and the number of 3-Michelin-starred restaurants (10). Monocle highlights Oktoberfest, the beer-cum-Bavarian festival, as exemplary of German soft power, but also notes Berlin’s direct involvement in the Eurozone crisis, and perhaps reluctance to lead the resurgence, as potentially crippling for Merkel’s influence. All in all, however, Germany is safely the globe’s most subtly powerful nation-state.

The UK and the US

Germany jumped ahead of both Britain and America in this year’s survey. The 2012 Olympics did a huge amount for British soft power, propelling it to the top of last year’s table. Mixed government rhetoric, however, on immigration, as well as an ever-troubling relationship with the rest of Europe, has impeded Britain’s ability to dominate subtle forms of international relations. London is perhaps its greatest asset; ‘a truly global city’, the capital is a collection of a thousand villages, each with its own culture and atmosphere, which blend into one around the famous Thames-side landmarks.

The US has also been housing internal struggles, epitomised by the budget crisis in September, which have prevented it from exerting soft influence to its full capacity. There has also been talk of indecision and lack of agency in guiding the Middle East crisis, which, most notably in Syria and Egypt, has escalated significantly over the last 12 months. The August debate on whether or not to directly intervene against Assad did a lot to harm the perception of America around the globe. Its cultural assets are still hugely valuable however; Monocle selects the Hollywood brand as perhaps the greatest of them all. It is clear though that the world is beginning to realise that the US is not the global policeman it wants, and perhaps used, to be.

Other Soft Powers

France and Japan round off the top five, both with significant numbers of embassies in foreign countries, cultural missions and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, Canada and Italy make up the top ten. In fact (depending on one’s definition of the ‘West’) one has to move down to South Korea at 14, Singapore at 17, Brazil at 19 or China at 20 to find a non-‘Western’ contender. Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has been credited with the use of soft power at home to tackle the perception of corruption, but is yet to fully exert his potential worldwide.

There are of course, individuals who have significant impact through soft power, often idolised celebrities. Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has very recently retired from test match cricket; cricketers in India hold a god-like status, perhaps even more fanatical than Brazilian footballers or American base-ball players. Tendulkar’s influence at home, as well as the respect he receives in other parts of the cricketing world, make him a significant soft power asset, even if the Indian government have been generally unable to harness him.

Conclusion

It is no longer enough to exert power in the international arena through military means or by flashing the cash. The global increase in the accessibility of culture renders new methods of influence very effective. As the nation-state has been challenged by other forms of international actor, governments have grasped new ways of promoting their national image. In 2012, Britain’s Olympic success proved exactly how much soft power Whitehall held; in 2013, German exuberance in industry and political economy has pushed Angela Merkel to the top. Next year, the rising influence of Scandinavia in politics, and more material concepts like design, could fashion a new soft power superhouse.

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