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Diplomats for hire

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

Ross’ last assignment had been in Kosovo, which was stuck in a legal limbo after the 1999 war over the territory when NATO’s bombing effectively ended Serbian rule but produced no international agreement on the aspirations of the Kosovo Albanian majority for an independent state.

“It was Kosovo that inspired me to set up Independent Diplomat,” Ross, the organization’s executive director, said from his office in New York. “Kosovo was required to engage in formidably complicated and obscure international diplomacy about its future … and yet they were expressly prohibited [by the U.N.] from having a foreign service.”

Independent Diplomat helped guide Kosovo towards its declaration of independence in February 2008, which has been recognized by 65 nations including the United States and 22 of the 27 EU members. After starting out with Kosovo, Ross explains the operation expanded to support more entities shut out from the mainstream of international diplomacy.

“There is definitely a huge appetite amongst countries and governments and other groups who feel excluded from the world diplomatic system,” he said.

Independent Diplomat does not lobby on behalf of its clients, Ross said, but rather works behind the scenes.

"We advise our clients on how best to represent themselves," he said. "When I was a more orthodox diplomat, I was never very impressed when a sharp-suited Westerner would arrive to make arguments for their clients."

Funded by private donations, government grants and contributions from clients, Independent Diplomat has a budget of about $1.8 million a year and runs bureaus in New York, Washington, Brussels and Addis Ababa.

Whyte, a former campaigner for cross-community understanding in his native Northern Ireland, stresses that Independent Diplomat does not seek to influence its clients’ policies, but instead provides advice and lobbying to help their them navigate the often murky waters of international politics.

"They come to us and they say 'this is our decision, we want to know from you how we can better implement it on the international scene,'" he explained over tea in his map-lined office in Brussels’ International Press Center. “It would be utterly inappropriate for us to be pushing them to engage or not to engage in a particular process.”

The organization also insists that it won’t take on clients who are engaged in armed conflicts, are insufficiently committed to human rights, democracy and international law, or unwilling to commit to negotiated settlements to their problems.

“We are often approached by groups that we turn down,” Carne said. “We try in general to help the good guys.”