The Soft Power 30 Index of 2017 was released in July 2017. As per the report, when it comes to Soft Power, France is the most powerful nation in the world. The report states:
"France’s vast diplomatic network, its cultural richness and the promise of Emmanuel Macron have contributed to the country’s No 1 position. While France leapfrogged, the US has fallen from first place in 2016 to third in 2017. As per the report this may be due to President Donald Trump’s "America first" policy, that “played poorly abroad, alienating allies and damaging links with the rest of the world.” This is too simplistic.
The report raised more questions than providing answers. If we look at Soft Power, from the context of 'influence,' it's hard to accept France at the top spot. US would still be at the top.
That brings us to the polling that was conducted in 25 countries. While Asia and Europe seems to have bigger representation, a major portion of Africa and Middle East wasn't polled? We also need to contextualize the fact that the opinions or votes received are deeply conditioned by historical experiences. While North Africa may feel a tug towards French culture and institutions, South Asia may lean towards the Anglo Saxon model it would be interesting to see such trends reflected as well.
While Trump's "America first" policy might have hurt the image of US in the short term, what needs to be understood is that the interventionist policy approaches of past administrations contributed immensely to a decline in a favorable perception of US. Have we forgotten Colin Powell lying at the United Nations in 2003? If we have this only goes on to prove how good the US propaganda machinery is in replacing collective public memory with newer issues and 'delink' old ones.
The report cites BBC as the most trusted media institution but does 'trust' necessarily translate into 'influence'? The pervasiveness of American media is hard to challenge and along with it the influence they can peddle for their country. Silicon Valley is doing it's bit too with the social networks, OTT content platforms and giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The report cites that China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative will boost it's soft power. This may turn out to be a perception nightmare for China as OBOR and it's terms are not really admirable and one of the many reasons why countries such as India are abstaining. Without India there's no silk road or OBOR - it would not just be the real deal! Besides, with OBOR gaining visibility China might have to become accountable for it's trade and development aid practices that are pushing lesser countries into debt trap sort of scenarios (Eg. Sri Lanka).
I tried reaching Portland Communications for a discussion on questions such as above. But my emails went unanswered. The initiative to release such a report is great especially when it leads to questions such as above. Soft Power translates into an attraction for a 'way of life' and viewed in that context "Power and Influence" is central to any understanding of soft power. It goes beyond culture, cuisine and 'feeling good'. How much will the elements considered in the report eventually shape the future of our world is what remains to be seen.