Sunday, 19 July 2015

Soft Power, as wielded by the UK - and Poland

Soft power was in the news this week, as a result of the publication of a ranking of the world's Top 30 countries in terms of their persuasive (rather than militaristic) ability. Defined as "the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or money as a means of persuasion", the concept of soft power has been around since 1990. I'd use the synonym 'spreading civilisation'. Now, for the first time, the world's most influential countries have been ranked.

The UK came first. Wow! Beating America, Germany, France and Japan.

Poland came 24th. ŁAŁ! Beating Israel, Mexico, Turkey and China.

Historically, Poland's soft power has stemmed from its diaspora. From novelist Joseph Conrad to civil engineer Ernest Malinowski, who built Peru's trans-Andean railway, from  explorer Sir Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, discoverer of Australia's highest peak, (Mount Kosciuszko) to Marie Curie-Skłodowska, who pioneered research into radioactivity, many have Poles raised Poland's profile positively abroad, even when Poland was literally off the map.

Soft power is the antithesis of gunboats or nuclear weapons. It is about a country being liked, and using that positive emotion to guide other countries away from barbarism and towards ever-higher levels of civilisation.

Diplomacy pays a huge part in the promotion of soft power, something I see in my everyday work. It is extremely encouraging to see the rapid rise in the quality of Poland's diplomats. The Polish Embassy in London's current campaign on Twitter to commemorate the role of Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain is a great example at how to win hearts and minds.

Britain's diplomacy rests strongly on the promotion of best practice. Long-term programmes such as the Better Regulation initiative are extremely important. The British Civil Service, permanent and independent, was built after the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of 1854 on the bedrock of apolitical professionalism. It is among the best in the world. What better than to share its expertise and experience with countries willing to learn how to improve their public administration? From clinical trials to regulating rail infrastructure, from public procurement to public-private partnerships, the British are keen to pass on what they have learnt to other nations - this I see myself in Poland. It is great for both countries. Poland learns, improves - Britain gains influence.

Britain also offers its own diplomats first-rate professional training, based on centuries of first-hand insights. Poland has upped its game when it comes to the quality of its public administration since joining the EU.

Britain has other things going for it. Culture - from the BBC to its massive presence in popular music. And sport (home of football, rugby and cricket). And education. It was not that long ago that Poland's finance, foreign and justice ministers were all UK educated. And professional bodies. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers - are all present in Poland, and are busy training and accrediting professionals here and around the world. Let us not forget The Economist - 1.6m copies sold each week around the world. When it comes to extending Britain's influence among policy-makers and influencers worldwide - this weekly magazine projects intellectual power like no other media outlet on earth. In terms of circulation, influence, global reach and sheer braininess, The Economist is streets ahead of Forbes or Bloomberg Businessweek.

China creeps into the Top 30 at number 30. OK, there's Tibet, the South China Sea, civil rights issues, a one-party state - but there's an amazing culture and a willingness to be liked - something that's entirely lacking in Russia, a country which currently does not enjoy a place at the top table among the world's soft powers. Russia merely wants to be respected through fear - a rather primitive longing for a nation.

Anyway - here's what the report said about Poland:
Poland's ranking at 24th is a tribute to the political and economic transformation that has taken place since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although the private sector is still developing, for example, leaving some way to go to in its 'Enterprise' score, Poland's economy has liberalised remarkably quickly. It largely avoided the financial crisis and has become one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. The political space has opened up rapidly, leading to a high score for 'Government' in our index. While the transition to democracy is by no means complete - we see, for example, public TV and radio still regulated by the government - civil society groups, NGOs and the media operate with significant degrees of freedom. Internationally, Poland has stepped up engagement and built alliances quickly, across Europe and with other emerging economies. Perhaps the biggest scope for improvement in Poland's score is in promoting its cultural assets. Poland has a rich culture, historically and artistically in particular, but this is not well understood by international audiences. Poland has made great strides in promoting access to and use of the internet, but the potential to use digital channels to reach external audiences is not maximised. Nor is Polish culture seen first-hand as widely as it could be; tourism numbers are rising but the tourism industry still has great scope to grow. Poland is the stand-out country in its neighbourhood and the future looks bright for the country.
If I could add my comments here: 'enterprise' is still hamstrung by a public administration that can all too often get in the way with unnecessary red tape, a clumsy tax system and poor communication with the citizen. Here, Britain's soft power in the form of the Better Regulation Initiative, bringing over top speakers to explain how challenges were met and obstacles overcome, is helping those countries that want to be helped.

Here's what the report said about Britain:
The UK has topped our Soft Power 30, much to the surprise of most British people no doubt. The result belies recent accusations that British influence is in decline. Vladimir Putin mocked Britain as a 'small island no one listens to'. This is hard to reconcile with the UK's position in the G7, UN Security Council, NATO, the EU, and at the epicentre of the Commonwealth. British soft power is often felt in more subtle ways, whether through the Beatles, Harry Potter, Shakespeare, David Beckham, the Royal Family, or the English Premier League. Moreover, the success of the 2012 Olympics was a coup for a country struggling to rediscover its confidence in the wake of two recent wars and a major recession. By many measures, London has overtaken New York as the premier global city. According to Government figures, the UK attracts more in Foreign Direct Investment than Germany, France or Spain. However, the true extent of Britain's influence abroad will be tested in the upcoming negotiations over reform of the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron has staked his credibility as a world leader on these negotiations, and if he was to come back empty handed, it would be a huge blow to national confidence.
Incidentally - why's the US only number three? As a hard power, still unbeatable, although new challenges are mounting. But as a soft power? America, that gave the world Google, Twitter and Facebook, the iPhone, the Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe, James Brown, Miles Davis and Bruce Springsteen has a poor reputation when it comes to race issues, easy access to firearms and downright arrogance.

So then - a new international ranking, one to add among the World Bank's Doing Business, the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness Index and Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. In years to come, the Soft Power 30 will no doubt increase to 50, then 100 then 189, and obsessive international rankings watchers such as me will have another date to put in their calendar to wait for. My guess is that Poland will move on up, leapfrogging smaller European states as its economy continues to grow and its influence - projected from Warsaw and from its diaspora around the world - does likewise.

This time three years ago:
First flight from Modlin

This time six years ago:
Another cycle route to work

This time seven years ago:
PZL M-28 and Piaggio Avanti - Okęcie regulars


student SGH said...

to be showed to those bastards who claim Poland is ruined and needs to be rebuilt.

Sigismundo said...

Its been obvious to me for a long while from speaking to people all around that the world that Britain is top tier if not the top nation when it comes to 'soft power'. Was always surprised when I got home to hear the naysayers. By extension, I think London has been the 'capital of the world' for at least a decade now, possibly two, again, not in terms of money or population or size, but in terms of cultural influence and significance.

As for Polska, well the nation's standing is undoubtedly improving, especially in Eastern Europe. Amazed to hear people from idyllic little Slovenia saying that Warsaw has so much more to offer in terms of quality of life (no, not standard of living) than than their picture perfect capital of Ljubljana.