A respected survey has indicated that France is now the world leader in ‘soft power’, overtaking the UK and US in global rankings.
France has outstripped Britain and the United States in its ability to exert “soft power” on the world stage, according to an annual survey analysing how much non-military influence a country possesses.
Though Britain ranked first in 2015, global geopolitical rebalancing, the Brexit vote and domestic political uncertainty appear to have changed perceptions as the UK’s ability to be a force on the world stage, a fact reflected in its demotion to second place in this year’s rankings.
The index’s top five countries by order are France, the UK, US, Germany and Canada. Outside the top five, Japan and Switzerland have risen to sixth and seventh respectively.
The survey, called the Soft Power 30, averages polling in 25 countries, measures international public perceptions and combines digital data to measure a country’s impact on the global stage. Criteria include a country’s cultural influence, cuisine, government, sporting success, digital advancement, education and enterprising abilities.
The survey does not take into account a country’s military prowess, a fact which would explain why the United States, China, India and Russia — all undeniable military powers — rarely reach the top spot. Soft Power 30, now in its third year, is a collaboration between the PR firm Portland Communications and the University of South California’s school of public diplomacy.
“Soft power”, according to Soft Power 30, describes “the use of positive attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives” and “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.”
France’s rapid rise in this global ranking — from fifth in 2016 to first in 2017 — has been attributed by commentators to the election of President Emmanuel Macron, who has vowed that “France is back”, declaring on multiple occasions his willingness to increasingly involve France in international affairs, including within the EU. The rise of French leadership in the EU is especially notable in light of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU; the UK had hitherto held, as former Foreign Secretary William Hague frequently suggested, a strong position as Europe’s ‘strongman’, wielding considerable influence in its workings, as well as being the EU’s leader in finance and foreign policy. The departure of Britain from the organisation has created a vacuum, which France’s pro-business Macron is keen to fill. This is to add to the fact that France’s membership of multilateral regional and international organisations is already unrivalled in number, making the country’s diplomatic networks very effective in furthering its “soft power” capabilities.
However, the UK’s fall to second place appears by no means permanent. Although finding that opinion of Britain within the EU has fallen dramatically since 2016, the report concedes that “outside the EU, perceptions of the UK remained static”, despite a tumultuous political and economic environment in Britain. What’s more, the survey suggested that “despite the looming public negotiations, the UK’s objective soft power assets both state and privately owned remained strong.”
The United States’ shortfall to third place, similarly, was caused by Trump’s “often divisive rhetoric” which “has led to a sharp decline in the international polling.” Very significantly, the survey, which saw the US’ “soft power” index fall nearly 10% from 2016 to 2017, was completed even before Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, signalling a preexisting global disgruntlement at the “America First” policy Trump has vowed to carry out.