Hargeisa, 2 August 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Western Sahara and Somaliland may not have much in common, but they share the same predicament: all are unrecognised states striving to capture international attention.
Enter Independent Diplomat – freelance diplomats who offer their assistance to such nations-in-waiting. They have scored a notable success helping Kosovo win independence from Serbia – but critics say they can only accomplish so much without involving governments and should not pretend to have more influence than they do.
The non-profit group, comprised of former diplomats from a variety of nations, stands ready to help would-be governments navigate the complex system of national bureaucracies and international organizations designed to accommodate established nations.
‘Very often government or international officials will refuse to talk to our clients, or if they talk to them they’re reluctant to give them the information they need,’ said Nicholas Whyte, who heads the Brussels office of the nonprofit group.
‘And from our clients’ side, they are often inexperienced in dealing with international bureaucracies precisely because nobody talks to them,’ said Mr Whyte, an Irish international affairs expert.
With offices in New York, Washington, London, Brussels and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the organisation provides its clients with guidance on how to approach foreign governments or international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union.
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The group played a role in helping Kosovo gain independence from Serbia. The province had been under international rule since the war ended in 1999 until declaring independence last year, and has been recognized by about 60 nations so far.
‘We received great assistance from them at a time when we needed it most,’ said Ilir Dugolli, Kosovo’s representative to the EU.
Independent Diplomat’s US$1.8 million (S$2.58 million) annual budget comes from foundation and government donations, as well as client fees. Clients are charged according to their ability to pay, with the poorest paying only nominal amounts.
The group also counsels established nations on issues where they lack expertise, including advising the Republic of the Marshall Islands on the UN climate change process and working with East European countries applying for EU membership.
‘We advise would-be countries, but also regular states where we can add our own expertise to theirs, as long as they are democratic countries that respect international law,’ said Carne Ross, the group’s founder and director.
He said Independent Diplomat adheres to a strict policy of rejecting clients engaged in armed struggle, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip or Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers. ‘If Robert Mugabe came to us for advice, we wouldn’t help him,’ said Mr Ross, a former senior British diplomat, referring to the Zimbabwean president.