Britain is now most powerful nation on earth

US toppled from No 1 slot as British influence enhances its 'soft power'

Emily Dugan
Sunday 18 November 2012 01:00

The empire is gone and we no longer rule the waves. But Britain is once again the most powerful nation on earth, according to a new survey, when it comes to "soft power". From Danny Boyle's inspiring Olympic opening ceremony, to 22 No 1 albums overseas, to Andy Murray's long hoped-for first Grand Slam title, Britain projects more positive influence around the world than any other nation.

For the first time, Britain has beaten the US to the top spot in an annual survey of global soft power. Coined by a Harvard academic in 1990, the term describes how countries use attraction and persuasion, rather than coercion or payment, to change behaviour.

Monocle magazine's annual "Global Soft Power" survey, published tomorrow, ranks nations according to their standard of government; diplomatic infrastructure; cultural output; capacity for education; and appeal to business.

The top five spots went to Britain, the US, Germany, France and Sweden. The list is calculated using a matrix of 50 factors that indicate the use of soft power. Some are empirical – such as the number of cultural missions, Olympic medals and foreign students a country can claim; others are more subjective – with countries ranked for the quality of their cuisine, architecture and business brands.

Tyler Brûlé, Monocle's editor-in-chief, said yesterday: "We're in a time, right now, where, more than ever, it's not particularly fashionable to go out and write massive cheques to get your way in the world. Armed conflict has never been less fashionable, and if you're able to effect change because you present yourself as an attractive nation to befriend and engage with, that can only be positive. It's about the rules of attraction and what makes a nation the most attractive in the room."

Speaking about how Britain has knocked America from the top spot in the magazine's third survey, Mr Brûlé said: "There's been a fantastic momentum in Britain this year. And at Monocle we're the biggest critics of this place, too. This is a good example of where you can't deny the Olympics were very important, from a global promoting point of view, this year. People even felt good about the Union Jack. There was something happening this side of the Atlantic that sucked the wind out of [America's] sails. The US has been very inward-looking with the election. America goes on to this more domestic footing – even more than usual – when there's an election."

Mr Brûlé said the global reach of Britain's media, from the BBC World Service to international magazines such as The Economist, also played a role. "You don't need a guiding hand of government for these things; these are British institutions that get in front of people."

Xenia Dormandy, a senior fellow and US expert at Chatham House, added: "With the Olympics taking place here, which got far more fanfare internationally than domestically, and with America very focused on elections, I think the result is probably right. The UK has had a very international presence this year and it has been the best of the British. I think America vastly undervalues the importance of soft power. It has a tendency to focus on the tangible and the concrete."

As well as Britain and the US swapping places in the list, Germany moved up from fourth to third place, as the "undisputed leader of a creaking European Union". South Korea moved up from 14th to 11th, after hosting a number of international summits, performing well at the Olympics and solidifying its position as a driver of innovation. Brazil had one of the biggest jumps, going from 21st to 17th, as fast growth and an increasing international interest, ahead of the next World Cup and Olympics, propel the country forward.


The Olympics brought global attention to the UK, with Team GB winning 65 medals. Bradley Wiggins conquered the Tour de France and Andy Murray took his first Grand Slam title in New York.


Bond – synonymous with Britishness – was everywhere. Appearing with the Queen in the Olympics opening ceremony, then in cinemas, with the global franchise's biggest ever release, Skyfall.


Some 29 million visit the UK a year, while just 62 million visit the US.


British actors have become some of America's favourite TV and film stars, including Damian Lewis (Nicholas Brody in Homeland) and Dominic West (Detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire).


A total of 22 British albums made No 1 in foreign countries this year.

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