Soft Power: can it be measured? Part two

This is the second in a series of articles exploring various Indexes measuring the influence one country may have or may seek over another.  The first article is here.

Commentators on international relations over the last 60 years have identified a number of high level areas where one country can exert, or seek to exert, influence over another.  They tend to illustrate their ideas with diagrams:  a continuum, a spectrum, others use various degrees of concentric circles.  The common theme is that the degree and depth of international engagement increases the chances of success in changing views.  It is a power game.  The ending of the Cold War unleashed more varieties: after all wasn’t the Cold War won without the inconvenience of actually going to War in the old-fashioned military sense?  Of course the multitude of wars since 1989 has demonstrated that good old military might has not gone away.  Indeed the current war mongering by nuclear armed Israel shows that old habits die hard. As do civilians and military personnel in a war.

The prime categorisation of power is hard and soft; based on Joseph Nye’s work from the early 1990s when he was at the Pentagon.  Hard power: the power to coerce from invasion, military strikes, economic and trade tactics is clear.  Soft power: the power of attraction of ideas has its supporters. It also has its denigrators.   Nye has more recently tried to merge the hard/soft dichotomy and handle the critics with a third way: smart power.

Hot on the heels of the academics and commentators are the measurers.  Create an Index based on criteria to demonstrate who is powerful, whose power, hard or soft or smart, is better/stronger than someone else.

Real Instituto Elcano based in Madrid produce a Global Presence Index.  This reviews 54 countries in 5 categories: economy, defence, migration and tourism, culture and science and development assistance.  Unlike most other Indexes it relies on the international element of each indicator and on objective data: no room for perceptions or value judgements.  So Nobel Prize winners do not get a look in as this is based on a subjective assessment of the awarding jury.  There are no subjective views of participants in international arts or youth activities or of views of other countries’ governance or human rights. Just plain hard quantifiable facts.

The Introduction to the Index is a valuable analysis of the methodology. It offers short sharp reviews of 14 other Indexes including those from the World Economic Forum, KOF Index of Globalisation, and even the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.

The Elcano approach is in my view the most rigorous of all the Indexes.  It seeks to avoid the “multiple indicators of same subject” which comes with those with a longer criteria list.  The rejection of all perception based indicators is novel and marks it out.   The eventual country ranking (USA, Germany, France, UK, China, Japan, Russia, Italy, Spain and Canada are its top 10) is slightly less western orientated than most Indexes.

The inclusion side by side of both the elements of hard power (military and trade) with the soft power categories (cultural, educational, scientific, development assistance) is a useful antidote to one sided supporters of one or the other.

But I’m not so convinced of its core premise:  “Global presence is a prerequisite for the exercise of influence through diplomacy”.  This presupposes that global influence is the aim, or at least feasible.  Most countries do not have a global foreign policy.  They may have a wide Embassy network and most countries have at least some trade with 100+ other countries.  But influence and importance?   Very few aspire to global pretensions.  It is easy to list them so I won’t!  The majority of countries have a triple international policy:  their neighbourhood (which may mean for example for a EU member, the other 26 members), the major countries (roughly the real G20 attendees.. around 25 countries) and very importantly the countries of their diaspora.  A good example came this week with the three Baltic countries clearly saying that their foreign policy was geared to “Russia, Russia, Russia” and their EU partners.

So a Global Presence Index has a use but it is not comparing like with like.   Space for another Index perhaps?