Diplomats (with a conscience) for hire

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details 17.01.08
Publication Date 17/01/2008
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A group of former diplomats offers a helping hand to unrecognised governments, writes Toby Vogel.

How can a diplomat be independent? The dozen staffers of the Independent Diplomat - "A diplomatic service for those who need it most" - are putting that question to the test. They provide analyses and strategic advice to unrecognised governments and other underprivileged international actors, helping them navigate a complex system heavily biased in favour of established nation-states and assisting them in peace processes for which they lack capacity. "We are filling a gap," the only non-diplomat among the group’s principals, Brussels-based Nicholas Whyte, tells European Voice. Current clients include Kosovo, northern Cyprus, the Western Sahara and Somaliland.

"These are international actors that are expected to play a full role in peace processes but are denied official recognition." Whyte sits in a small, unassuming office above Rond Point Schuman and oversees a staff of just one. But his nine years in Brussels, first with the Centre for European Policy Studies, then as Europe programme director with the International Crisis Group, give him an access to decision-makers and top diplomats that belies the modesty of his office, or indeed his personal demeanour. "The best information always comes from talking directly to senior officials," Whyte says - precisely the avenue that is closed to his clients, whose representatives may not be received by EU or member state officials because they are not envoys of a recognised country.

Independent Diplomat supports these states-in-waiting by providing critical information to which they might not otherwise have access, and by drawing up strategies to advance their cause in the international arena.

What Whyte does not do, however, is represent his clients vis-à-vis the EU or its member states - the other half of a diplomat’s job. "They must make their own case," he says. Whyte may be fully independent, but he is only half a diplomat.

Most of the skills needed for the job, however, are those one would find in any successful diplomat: in addition to a direct line to top officials they include sound political judgment and a nuanced understanding of how international politics works. Such skills are not acquired in school but over years of policy work, much of it involving the drudgery of quickly absorbing vast amounts of information and churning out pithy analyses of what it all means. Despite the intangible quality of these skills, Independent Diplomat operates a trainee programme and puts a strong emphasis on mentoring.

Independent Diplomat was set up in 2004 after Carne Ross, a British career diplomat who had been posted to Germany, Afghanistan, Kosovo and the UK mission to the UN in New York, had grown disenchanted with his government’s policies on a number of issues, particularly the invasion of Iraq. The history of that disenchantment is retraced in the highly readable and slightly depressing memoir of his time in the service, ‘Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite’. "The practice of diplomacy…remains a closed world, accessible only to an appointed élite, and intelligible only through their codes and terminologies," Ross writes in what amounts to a manifesto for his new organisation.

Independent Diplomat was set up as a non-profit organisation and charges a fee - though not necessarily its full fee - to all clients, but the key selection criterion is a means test of a different sort: it only takes on groups which pursue their goals through peaceful methods. "Beyond that, we will not query the ends," Whyte says, even if they may be - as with the majority of his current clients - secessionist.

The group’s services are evidently in great demand: it has just opened a new office in Washington, DC, headed by the UN’s former top official in Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, and has plans to expand two- or three-fold, to some 30 staff, over the next five years, and to open new offices in addition to those in London (its current headquarters), New York (its future headquarters), Washington and Brussels.

  • Practical:

Independent Diplomat is not an entry-level organisation. It only hires applicants with at least fifteen years of diplomatic or equivalent experience. It does, however, operate an internship programme in all its offices.

Experience more important than education, but all staffers have a university education. Salaries are competitive with international organisations and national diplomatic services.

A group of former diplomats offers a helping hand to unrecognised governments, writes Toby Vogel.

Source Link http://www.europeanvoice.com