The North-South Institute



Ashdown’s Third Law

July 5, 2012


The North-South Institute

The Only Things that Matter are Those You do with Others

In mid-June, NSI welcomed the Rt Hon Lord Paddy Ashdown to Ottawa for a series of public talks and consultations. Lord Ashdown shared his thoughts on global power shifts, interconnectedness and international development.

If there was a common theme to Paddy Ashdown’s presentations, it is summarized nicely by what he calls, “Ashdown’s Third Law,” that in the modern age, the only things that you do that matter are those you can do with others. (Incidentally, there is neither a First nor a Second Law because “Third Law” sounds better.)

 I asked Ashdown what he thought this means for international development work and development think tanks in particular.

On development, Ashdown focused on identifying sources of conflict, particularly scarce resources, and starting to think about taking globalized action to address these challenges. To do so, we in the West need to expand our ideas of multilateralism beyond our traditional friends to include countries like China. We also need to understand that it is in our enlightened self-interest to do so.

Ashdown’s recommendation for think tanks is to think rather than do. We need creative solutions to the world’s problems because – as Ashdown puts it – if we go on doing what we’re doing now, we’ll go on getting what we’ve got.

Ashdown spoke publicly on two topics: the findings of his Humanitarian Emergency Response Review for the UK’s Department of International Development and on Global Power Shifts.

On the first topic, Ashdown highlighted the changing nature of the world we’re working in when responding to humanitarian crises. He noted three significant changes: 1. the scale and pace of emergencies is increasing; 2. population density is increasing and most emergencies are now happen in an urban environment, and 3. the capacity of rich Western nations to respond is declining. He shared the report’s conclusion that, given these changes, even aid organizations that are good at what they do will have to change the way they operate.

Ashdown’s second topic and his talk centred around three key arguments that he has been making for the past while: 1. We are experiencing a horizontal shift in power, away from a unipolar world focused on the USA; 2. we are experiencing a vertical shift in power away from the nation-state; and, 3. the world – including nation-states – is more interconnected than ever before.

These presentations were an important reminder of the need to think and work at several levels of analysis and in interdisciplinary ways. NSI’s work – including this series of blogs – is responding to that call across our research programs.

Update: Video from Ashdown’s talk at DFAIT.