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Diplomats for hire

Independent Diplomat helps clients navigate corridors of power in Brussels, Washington and New York.

Independent Diplomat works with clients such as Kosovo on strategies for making themselves heard in diplomatic circles. Here Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu (left) and Democratic Party of Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci (center) arrive at a meeting with Serbian leaders at the European Council headquarters in Brussels on Nov. 20, 2007. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Brussels has one of the biggest concentrations of diplomats on the planet. Many nations keep three embassies here dealing with the European Union and NATO as well as the Kingdom of Belgium. 

Among the historic palaces, modernist landmarks or bland office blocks hosting national delegations around the EU headquarters, is a one-room office that serves as a de facto legation for nations that don’t officially exist.                  

Independent Diplomat is a non-profit organization offering freelance diplomatic services to the breakaway regions, unrecognized states, governments-in-exile and island micro-nations that would otherwise struggle to make their voices heard in the corridors of power of Brussels, New York and Washington. 

“We’re about trying to level the diplomatic playing field,” said Nicholas Whyte, Independent Diplomat’s Brussels representative. “We’re trying to help those groups and countries that are disadvantaged in international diplomacy so that they can engage with the outside world, so they can negotiate on a more even footing.”

Whyte is currently spending much of his time working with the authorities in southern Sudan, as they prepare for a referendum on independence in 2011. Other clients include the Polisario Front, which wants to lead Western Sahara to self-government after 35 years of Moroccan rule, and Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but remains unrecognized by any government despite its relative stability.

Independent Diplomat also works for the breakaway Turkish state in northern Cyprus as it works toward reconciliation with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in the south; it helps the Burmese government-in-exile which is loyal to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi; and offers advise to the Marshall Islands in international climate change talks. Clients include recognized nations, such as the Marshall Islands and Croatia, for which Independent Diplomat provides behind-the-scenes support in its membership talks with the European Union.

“Their support is very important, the diplomatic support, the political support,” said Mohamoud Daar, Somaliland’s representative in Brussels. “They help us a lot with the lobbying mechanism with the parliamentarians and government officials within the EU.”

Independent Diplomat is the brainchild of Carne Ross, who served as a British diplomat for 15 years before he resigned in 2004 over the Iraq War.

Ross was Britain’s point man on Iraq at the United Nations in the years running up to the war, and says his access to intelligence convinced him that Tony Blair’s government grossly exaggerated the threat from Saddam Hussein in order to justify the invasion. After testifying to that effect at a British enquiry into the war, he quit the Foreign Office.