Sovereign states are facing increasing competition from supranational and sub-state actors and networks. The forces of globalization, from increasing digital connectivity to changing patterns of migration, are testing national governments even further. Can states prevent fragmentation, or should they focus on improving policy-making in a fragmenting world? 



Professor Simon Anholt

Founder, the Good Country Party


Professor Simon Anholt is the Founder of the global political organization the Good Country Party and publisher of the Good Country Index. He is an independent adviser to governments on their strategies for enhanced economic, political and cultural engagement with other countries, and served as Vice-Chair of the UK Foreign Office’s Public Diplomacy Board.He devised the concept of nation brand in 1996 and is the founder and publisher of the annual Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index and City Brands Index, which poll more than 20,000 people to monitor perceptions of 50 countries. He founded and is Editor Emeritus of the quarterly academic journal, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. His books include Brand America (2004) and Places: Image, Identity and Reputation (2010). He has a master’s from the University of Oxford, is Honorary Professor in Political Science at the University of East Anglia, and is Chairman of the Anholt Institute, Copenhagen.

François Crépeau

Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, United Nations


François Crépeau is Full Professor and holds the Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law at McGill University, in Montreal. He is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants (2011–17), and Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures (2014–15). He is guest professor at the Université catholique de Louvain (2010–19), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a former Fellow of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation (2008–11), and is an Advocatus Emeritus of the Quebec Bar Association.

Margaret MacMillan

Warden, St Antony’s College and Professor, International History, University of Oxford


Margaret MacMillan is the Warden of St Antony’s College and a Professor of International History at the University of Oxford. Her books include Women of the Raj (1988); Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (2001); Nixon in China: Six Days that Changed the World (2006) and The Uses and Abuses of History (2008). Her most recent book is The War That Ended Peace (2013). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Senior Fellow of Massey College, University of Toronto; an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, University of Toronto, and of St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford; and sits on the boards of the Mosaic Institute, Canada, and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. She also sits on the advisory board of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation.

Philip Stephens

Associate Editor, Financial Times


Philip Stephens is Chief Political Commentator, Associate Editor and a member of the editorial board at the Financial Times. He is Vice­Chair of the council of the Ditchley Foundation, a member of the steering group of the Anglo­French Colloque and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Public Policy Research. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences on European, transatlantic and global affairs, and offers analysis and advice to business leaders on geopolitical risk.He won the David Watt prize for Outstanding Political Journalism, and was named Political Journalist of the Year by the UK Political Studies Association, and Political Journalist of the Year in the British Press Awards. He is the author of Politics and the Pound, a study of British economic and European policy, and of a biography of the former prime minister Tony Blair. He graduated in Modern History from Oxford.

Dr Shashi Tharoor

MP for Thiruvananthapuram, India and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs; Minister of State for Human Resource Development (2012—2014); Minister of State for External Affairs (2009—2010)


Dr Shashi Tharoor has been the MP for Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, since 2009 and is a former Minister of State for Human Resource Development and External Affairs in the government of India. He also served 29 years at the United Nations, rising to Under-Secretary General under Kofi Annan. He is the author of 15 books, fiction and non-fiction, including the ground-breaking satire The Great Indian Novel (1989) and the most recent, India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time.He has won numerous literary awards, including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and pioneered among Indian politicians the use of Twitter, where he has more than 2.5 million followers. He has a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and was named by the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1998 as a ‘Global Leader of Tomorrow’.

Video highlight

‘I don’t see the world so much as fragmented as networked.’  

Dr Shashi Tharoor , MP for Thiruvananthapuram, India and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs; Minister of State for Human Resource Development (2012—14); Minister of State for External Affairs (2009—10)

‘Migration policies are always about [migrants] never with them.’

François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, United Nations

Key discussion points

There is a disjunction between supply and demand for governance. At both the state level and in the international system, public expectations of institutions have gone up while the policy levers available have gone down. This has contributed to dissatisfaction and disillusionment with politics.

Like in 1914, there is now a sense of complacency in the West. Wars have mostly been fought elsewhere and people have forgotten the key drivers in establishing the United Nations and European Union, and why these were broadly supported at the time. People are thus quick to criticize the UN systems despite the success they have had in providing a stable system through which states can operate peacefully. Despite the criticism, there is a sense that the system can be pushed to the edge and still be quite safe.

Globalized trade does not make war impossible. Indeed, resistance to globalization can help foster small nationalisms, as it did before 1914. As people see the world transform around them, they can cling to smaller and smaller indicators of identity. And to dismiss war as economically irrational discounts the many misjudgements and emotional cases that have often triggered war.

Globalization has created a new superpower: public opinion. As issues of public concern become globalized, governments may need new mandates that go beyond working for their own constituents and territory but have an ethical element similar to corporate social responsibility.

Public opinion can be used for good or ill: International action is often constrained by dysfunctional national politics. While there is progress being made on issues like migration in international forums, internal populist discourse based on myths about migrants constrains national debates and makes democratic governments resistant to holding multi-lateral discussions and creating agreements which see migration in a positive light.

Specifically, the conversation on migration must change. There is an acceptance of discrimination against migrants within Europe and the West, and that policies can be designed without migrant representation. Governments and citizens need to re-examine the moral dimension of migration and have a conversation about human rights and the responsibilities owed to migrants.

Global politics may be networking rather than fragmenting. Though many rising and established powers are still concerned about state sovereignty, this does not preclude cooperation. Countries like India that have gained sovereignty only relatively recently are understandably protective of it, but can also participate in many different coalitions of states to deal with different issues. (For instance, India moves between the G77, BRICS, BASIC [Brazil, South Africa, India, China], IBSA [India, Brazil, South Africa], etc.)  More concerning would be states that, rather than trying to leverage their sovereignty within the established groupings and systems, try to work outside of it.

Session video