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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.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Would love to see the criteria for this. I can’t think of a single thing the UK has been able to exert its soft power to influence anyone on.
    The US does what it wants, the EU didn’t offer DC a thing when he tried to get concessions on benefits and immigration from the EU, in fact they just took more money of him. China still walks all over intellectual property so how is the UK ahead of the USA who could trigger an economic collapse when they create economic sanctions because they don’t like you.

    • Because we offer humanitarian aid, engineers,doctors and medical staff, educationalists and scientific expertise to over sixty countries in all parts of the world. That should answer your question!

  2. This kind of thing is meaningless and reminds me of the FIFA rankings in international football. I doubt if anyone in Washington, London, Paris, Beijing, etc, will be losing any sleep over it.

  3. Power is the ability to alter the behavior of others to get what you want.

    Lots of different types of power which can work in a variety of ways, but they must all be backed by hard power to have a meaningful long term effect.

  4. Can anyone tell me which global organisations France belongs to that we don’t?
    Also, how does it achieve this? Does it spend more on foreign aid, for example, or does it achieve this bu other means?

    Hope someone can help? Cheers.

  5. France does not acheive this through foreign aid! They only spend about 0.1-0.2% gdp on foreign aid. UK should actually be number 1 as we are the only developed G8 nation to stupidly commit to 0.7% gdp given away on foreign aid.
    Solution is simple if France are number 1 with 0.1% then that is what we should go to immediately. I think for disaster relief and other emegencies the British people always respond massively to help the wider world through the DEC Disasters Emergency Committee. Foreign aid and disaster relief should not be the remit of government it should be a choice for citizens whereby people only pay in if they want too. I personally would rather the £13 billion given away last year was spent within the uk on defence, social care, education, NHS, infrastructure in an equal manner so £2.35 billion extra a year to those 5 areas.

    • I wouldn’t like to see us slash the aid budget to France’s level but I do agree that for a country with a very large national debt ratio, and one that is still growing due to slower than expected progress on tackling our deficit, the current 0.7% is an anomaly vs other countries and a level of generosity that we simply can’t afford. We also see various reports of the year-end stampede to meet the 0.7% spending target resulting in some of the money being spent very poorly. Admittedly those reports might be typical press hyperbole built around half-truths but if any are even partially true then it is a tragedy.

      I still think that an obvious use of the aid budget would be to fund extra ships in the MARS SSS program. Look at how often RN/RFA assets are called on for disaster relief, Med migrant rescue etc. How often in their lives have the Bay class ships been used to storm a beach vs deliver emergency supplies or rescue migrants? The UK military could get a decent contribution even without cutting the headline 0.7% rate, even though, as mentioned above, I do think that rate should be cut back somewhat. If more recognition was given to the extent of the RN/RFA/RAF’s involvement in humanitarian aid operations then some extra assets could and should be funded directly out of the aid budget including some contributions towards RFA personnel costs plus some extra helicopters to ensure that any embarked on humanitarian SSS missions aren’t a drain on availability elsewhere.

      If the aid budget could fund a build-out of MARS SSS to give sufficient vessels to replace Argus and also replace the remaining 3 Bay Class allowing those to be sold on it would give the RFA a hugely solid backbone comprising a single unified, modern and more capable fleet of supply, humanitarian aid and, in case of war, amphibious warfare landing ships. That would go a long way to making up for the loss of Ocean, increase general helicopter availability (assuming some extra helicopters were also funded as part of expanding the MARS SSS program) plus money raised from scrapping Argus and selling on the Bays could be put into the RN equipment budget.

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