New World Order: The balance of soft power and the rise of herbivorous powers

A global public opinion survey shows that there is growing public support for a more multi-polar world


A fresh ECFR/Gallup International survey – the world's largest survey this year based on the interviews of 57,000 people from 52 countries – shows that the world  is increasingly hostile to military power, and drawn to new “herbivorous” centres of powers. Of all the great powers, it is the European Union whose influence is most desired by world citizens. More than a third of respondents (35%) see an increase in its power as key to the development of a better world, whilst only 20% want to see its power decline. India, South Africa, and Brazil also polled well (27%, 26%, and 23% wanted their power to rise, while 20%, 18%, 17% wanted it to decline).

On the other hand, the US, Iran, Russia and China all provoke more negative than positive reactions. Whilst 23% and 24% of respondents respectively would like Russia's and China's importance to increase, 29% and 32% believe the world would benefit from a decline in their power. The influence of Iran and the US are the most resisted by world citizens. Although 26% of respondents declare that US should grow, 37% think the opposite. In the case of Iran, 39% would like to see its influence decline, while only 14% are in favour of rising. The negative perceptions of Russia, China and Iran seem to be connected with the fact that they are perceived not so much as rising economic or political powers as military powers.

The distinctive characteristic of the new world order seems to be that it will be determined not simply by the balance of ‘hard power' (the ability to use economic or military power to coerce or bribe countries to support you), but by the balance of what the American academic Joseph Nye has called “soft power”- the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion and payment, arising from the appeal of your culture, political ideals, and policies. Paradoxically nothing seems to erode soft power as much as the possession of military power.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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