Freelance Diplomacy and Small States

Sir Henry Wotton, XVIIth-century author and British ambassador to Venice

Sir Henry Wotton, who served King James I as ambassador to Venice, once stated that “an Ambassador is an honest man, sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

In the multi-polar interconnected world an aspiring diplomat no longer has to be drilled by a formal academic program. And the state that uses diplomat’s services will often abide with philosophies different from her own countries.

It could. in fact, be a supra state like the EU. Or consider the work done by an UN citizen ambassador. Or if one were to find this position too symbolical than how about putting on a hat of a freelance diplomat? There are provisions specifically included in the articles of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which allows a non-national to represent another country diplomatically.

According to Wikipedia, freelance diplomacy is a form of self-financing diplomatic representation used by countries who as a general rule, could not afford to hire expert diplomatic consultants full time. A freelance diplomat is hired for a specific task or may sometimes be contracted on a permanent basis to run a Delegation, Mission or Embassy. They may also be used to promote investment into the country they work for. It is understood to be a performance-based relationship, where the diplomat is paid on results only.

It would be interesting to note that some intellectuals put diplomats (statesmen) close to artists. Especially when we are talking about the Western civilization.  John W. O’Malley, in his book Four Cultures of the West, describes the prophetic, academic/professional, humanistic, and artistic cultures all as being part of larger Western philosophy. He puts statesmen in “culture three” (humanistic) because they are concerned with contingencies. O’Malley says a statesman must ask: “Is war required of us now, under these circumstances?” A statesman argues, therefore, from:

probabilities to attain a solution not certain but more likely of success than its alternatives. Like the poet, then, the statesman deals with ambiguities, very unlike the protagonist from culture two, who traditionally argued from principles to attain truth certain and proved to be such; cultures two and three represent, thus, two different approaches to problem solving. Like the prophet of culture one, the statesman of culture three wants to change society for the better, but to do so he seeks common ground and knows that to attain his end he must be astute in compromise. He does not shun the negotiating table.

And, let’s face it, to be a freelance diplomat, one needs creativity. The same principle applies to small states that often use the services of freelance diplomats.

The more adept small states have managed to join bodies, regional or global, and maneuver to promote their interests within frameworks established by and for larger powers.

A Founding Partner of the Centre for Small State Studies at the University of Iceland Michael Corgan writes:

Among the earliest small states to do so were the Venetian Republic and Vatican in the 17th century. The text of the Peace of Westphalia, the wellspring of the current state system, credits Venetian diplomats for bringing an end to this general war in Europe.

The Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, gives Communion in the hand to Senator John Kerry, 2006 (image courtesy of

And the 1962 Vienna Diplomatic convention includes the designation nuncio as co-equal to ambassador, in part a recognition of the centuries-long role played by the Holy See’s diplomats and diplomatic practice. In more modern times some small states, notably Switzerland and the Nordic countries, have shown how a focused and well-informed diplomacy can produce remarkable results, especially when vital economic or security interests are involved.

One of the first major decisions of the UN’s International Court of Justice was the 1951 Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries Case.  Although this in itself could be considered a victory for a small state on the world stage, it was an even smaller state, one only 7 years independent, that seems to have made the most of the decision. Iceland’s government immediately saw a trend in world affairs and notions of sovereignty and promptly extended its own fisheries limits from 4 out to 12 miles. Nor were the Icelanders finished yet. Over the next quarter of a century this smallest of the small states that had chosen to join the world’s major bodies aggressively and progressively led the way in extending protected fisheries limits out to the now universally accepted 200 miles.

Iceland accomplished its aims against the efforts of much more powerful states, notably the UK and later Germany as well, taking advantage of several factors such as its geo-strategic value to NATO and clever use of media characterizations of a David versus Goliath. The principal asset this state—with fewer than a quarter million people—took into its three so-called Cod Wars, however, was the skill, persistence, and thorough grounding in facts of the issues of its diplomatic corps.

Nor is it only Northern European small states that have had an impact on events out of all proportion to their size. It was a Maltese UN diplomat, Arvid Pardo, who introduced the concept of the “common heritage of mankind” into the Law of the Sea section dealing with rights to resources on the deep seabed. This idea, which looked to the interests of all small states, was extended into the Law of Space where the sharing of data includes micro-states with no hope of themselves participating in any space exploration.

Though the idea of an International Criminal court had been talked of for some decades after the UN’s establishment, the spur for the effort that actually led to the Court’s establishment was begun by Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1990s as a way to deal with drug traffickers.

Emerging economies are turning to experienced freelance diplomats to increase trade and procure private investment from abroad.

Born and educated in England, Colin Evans (born 1964) is widely considered to be the best example of a “freelance” or Commercial Diplomat in the world today. He is a fluent English and Portuguese speaker. He has represented countries from Africa, Central America and the Pacific and is often hired as strategic consultant to delegations at the FAO and UNESCO.

Freelance diplomats are often presented with diplomatic credentials and other documentation to facilitate their work, including diplomatic passports and CD license plates.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara and Somaliland may not have much in common, but they share the same predicament: all are unrecognized states striving to capture international attention. Enter Independent Diplomat (ID) (Facebook page) — a non-profit organisation founded in 2004 by former British diplomat Carne Ross.

The nonprofit 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 Whyte, an Irish international affairs expert.

ID’s projects have included: helping Kosovo achieve recognition as a new state, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Somaliland, Northern Cyprus and Western Sahara.

ID has also assisted various non-profit organizations, including: Human Rights First, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Nicholas Whyte heads the Brussels office of the Independent Diplomat

The group also counsels established nations on issues where they lack expertise, including advising the Republic of the Marshall Islands on the U.N. climate change process and working with East European countries applying for EU membership.

Independent Diplomat adheres to a strict policy of rejecting clients engaged in armed struggle.

But critics say ID can only accomplish so much without involving governments and should not pretend to have more influence than they do.

Robert Cooper, the former secretary-general of the European Council in Brussels, also questioned the group’s influence. ”Achieving anything in foreign affairs is very difficult for non-governmental groups,” he said. ”Some NGOs perform extremely valuable work and are well respected … but in the end nothing is achieved without governments [and] they should not pretend that they have influence when they don’t.”

Still, Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Iran, said those involved in the endeavor were ”individually capable people” who could make a difference. ”Their philosophy and their code — and the approach that they take — does fill a gap for countries and for movements who don’t have access to the international system,” he said.

With offices in New York, Washington, London, Brussels and Addis Abeba the organization provides its clients with guidance on how to approach foreign governments or international organizations such as the United Nations or the European Union.

Independent Diplomat’s 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.


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