Over the course of its twenty-one year existence, Joseph Nye’s ‘soft power’ has garnered a dedicated following among international relations thinkers. But in recent years, the rising explanatory value of soft power means it is echoed almost daily across global media outlets. Further lifted by the potential it holds as a public diplomacy tool, soft power has been elevated to pride of place in foreign policy debates. But as the bandwagon grows, policy makers are in danger of rushing to develop ‘soft power strategies’ before understanding what soft power resources they actually command.

The aim of this publication – as with last year’s inaugural New Persuaders report – is to refocus attention on understanding the resources that contribute to a nation’s soft power, and provide a comparative snap-shot of those resources through a composite index. In international politics, soft power is the ability of one state to achieve preferred outcomes by changing the preferences or behaviour of another state through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuasion and positive attraction.

Due to its inherently subjective nature, measuring soft power is fraught with difficulty. Prior attempts to measure soft power have relied exclusively on public polling data, which has its downsides. Working again with the editors of Monocle Magazine, the IfG-Monocle Soft Power Index is the first to combine objective, statistical metrics with subjective data to create a composite index of international soft power. The index comprises five objective sub-indices, Government, Culture, Diplomacy, Education, and Business/Innovation and seven subjective indicators.

Maintaining a focus on the core components of soft power, this paper discusses both the construction and results of the 2011 IfG-Monocle Soft Power Index. It begins by looking at definitions of power in international politics and the current direction of the soft power debate. The paper outlines the framework that underpins our soft power index and explains the changes made from the inaugural index published in 2010. Finally, the paper discusses the results of the index in the context of the trends that are shaping international politics. This report warns that as governments in developed countries look to reign in public spending, there is a dangerous false economy in cutting soft power assets. For emerging powers, this paper argues that only a balanced approach, one that takes all five major sources of soft power into account, will yield real gains.