Keeping Perspective on America's Jump to #1 in the Nation Brands Index

Nick Cull adds some necessary perspective on America's surprising jump to #1 in the most recent Nation Brand Index by GfK:

It is received wisdom among those who monitor the ebb and flow of national reputations that major movements are rare. ... Mostly the rankings have been surprisingly stable, with France, Germany and the United Kingdom jostling for the top slot in the leading index, the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index. Against this expectation of stability, the results of this year's Anholt index are all the more startling. The United States has soared from the doldrums of number seven to the top spot as the most admired country in the world. The founder of the Index, Simon Anholt, attributed America's jump to one factor: the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. However, due to the spread of categories which comprise an index rating, in order to move so dramatically the United States has had to 'move the needle' not only in its politics, but in the reputation of its people, culture and as a tourist destination.

But before America pops the champagne, a word of caution. It would be nice to say that America's jump in the index (or the earlier jumps in the Pew Global survey) is the product of a massive investment in public diplomacy, but this is not the case. That investment still remains an unfulfilled election promise. In fact the 'good news' might yet emerge as 'bad news', as it removes the urgency from the issue of PD reform. The US can not live off the reputation of its President alone. To stay at the top the USA needs to both invest in and to reform its public diplomacy, to address the prominence of the military in the delivery of the 'brand America' experience and create a workable inter-agency mechanism. Whether she speaks for the 'top nation' or not , Under Secretary Judith McHale still has a massive challenge ahead.

I agree with Nick. I am fairly certain that McHale and her boss won't seriously laud the rise, even if they do highlight it in public. I do hope some within the public diplomacy apparatus doesn't think they are a big cause of the movement.

I echo Nick's concern that this 'good news' will remove the urgency, but I sincerely believe it won't. In part because there remains too little urgency in the first place, regardless of the current debates in Congress over Defense spending and leadership in global engagement. It's important to keep in mind that the Defense appropriators and authorizers are not actively working with the appropriators and authorizers for State. In other words, reducing the "prominence of the military in the delivery of the 'brand America' experience" is simply that: reducing the military without increasing State (at least not as of this writing). I am certain, however, that few in Congress will see this as a metric of success and suggest slowing down planned expansion of public diplomacy. Wait, there is no serious planned expansion of PD, never mind....

Imagine if the White House and State had not failed to capitalize on the engagement opportunities afforded by our charismatic leaders over this past year.