“In today’s global information age, victory often depends not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins.” This assertion from John Arquilla – often echoed by Joseph Nye – clearly conveys the utility of soft power and the importance of effectively communicating a winning global narrative.
While this sounds a simple enough principle to follow, incorporating it into foreign policy practice is not so straightforward. From the outset of The Soft Power 30 series, we have sought to provide useful insights and practical guidance to overcome the first challenge of using soft power: identifying and measuring its sources.
In addressing this challenge, our mission has been to create a structure to manage the complexity of soft power and its numerous sources. At the same time, we have endeavoured to set our research in the global political context of today. In 2018, that context sees us moving ever faster towards a multi-polar and interdependent world. Power has become more diffuse, moving not just from West to East, but also away from governments, as more non-state actors play larger roles in driving global affairs. The acceleration towards greater interdependence is driven by the twin forces of globalisation and the digital revolution. Together, they have drawn the world closer by increasing the international flows of trade, capital, people, culture, education, and information. In doing so, greater interdependence has created both challenges and opportunities.
Over the last twelve months it has been the challenges – not the opportunities – that have dominated the wider debate on global affairs. Indeed, in 2018 there has been a growing swell of voices warning about the coming collapse of the current rules-based liberal international order. This report begins with a contextual analysis of the current state of global geopolitics. Looking at the major threats to the current liberal international order, we assess the validity of those threats, outline some potential reasons for cautious optimism, and consider the critical relationship between soft power and the future viability of the global order.
In setting this year’s The Soft Power 30 report in such a grave context, we hope to concentrate minds on the importance of soft power in protecting, maintaining, and ultimately renewing the rules-based international order. Moreover, we aim to return discussion on soft power to its conceptual roots and definition as a critical foreign policy approach used to align values, norms, objectives, and ultimately behaviours through attraction and persuasion. The ability to do exactly that at this time of geopolitical uncertainty, will be critical for those countries that are determined to shape the future of global affairs.
Fundamental to deploying soft power is a clear and accurate measurement of a nation’s soft power resources. This is the aim of The Soft Power 30 index – the world’s most comprehensive comparative assessment of global soft power. The index combines objective data and international polling to build what Professor Nye has described as “the clearest picture of global soft power to date”.