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A protecting power is a state which somehow protects another state, and/or represents the interests of the protected state's citizens in a third state.

In diplomatic usage, the term protecting power refers to a relationship that may occur when two sovereign states do not have diplomatic relations. Either country may request a third party (with which both do have diplomatic relations) to act as the protecting power, using its "good offices". In the territory of the host country, the protecting power will be recognized by that state as empowered to represent the other and protect its interests. This may extend to caring for the diplomatic property of its protectee or acting as consular officers on behalf of its citizens. The relationship and the legal status are recognized in international conventions on diplomatic and consular affairs, such as the Vienna Conventions.


The Swiss Embassy in Washington DC also represents Cuba's interests in the United States
The practice is used when two countries have severed or suspended formal diplomatic ties for whatever reason (or never had them), including military or territorial disputes, and yet wish to retain some form of communication or means of conducting necessary business. Effectively, it is a means of maintaining diplomatic relations when those ties have been formally severed. It is not uncommon for the protected power to retain the use of its former diplomatic representation's buildings (although "attached" to or recognized as a section of the embassy of the protecting power), and to post diplomats to the host state (again, as members of the protected power's "Interests Section" of the protecting power's diplomatic mission). The host may impose much more substantial restrictions on the protected power's ability to post personnel or in other areas, however, than would be customary under normal diplomatic relations.

There is no requirement that the protecting power be of any particular size or that it maintain formal neutrality, but rather that the protecting power have diplomatic relations with both states. The host must grant or accept the assumption of protection. The specific responsibilities and arrangements are agreed between the protecting power and the protected power.

In practice, the "protected power" may be able to carry on quite substantial diplomatic and other relations with the host, despite the lack of formal relations. For example, Cubamarker and the United Statesmarker do not have formal diplomatic relations, but both maintain substantial diplomatic presences in each others' countries. Switzerlandmarker is the protecting power for the United States in Cuba, and for Cuba in the United States (note that Cuba has separate diplomatic representation in New York at its Permanent Mission to the United Nations). Formally, the U.S. representation in Cuba is known as the United States Interests Section in Havana of the Swiss Embassy to Cuba; in practice, it is staffed primarily by U.S. diplomats and government personnel, and effectively occupies the physical buildings of the (former) U.S. Embassy. Other cases where a protecting power relationship exists include Israel and Taiwanmarker in certain countries where they are not recognized.

Switzerland as a protecting power

Switzerlandmarker has a long history serving as a protecting power in many conflicts. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 it represented the interests of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Grand Duchy of Badenmarker in France. In the First World War, Spainmarker took on more protecting power representational duties than Switzerland, and the Netherlandsmarker also took carriage of some mandates.

However in the Second World War both Spain and the Nazi-occupied Netherlands were effectively unable to serve as a protecting power, and instead Switzerland took on the role of representing a number of belligerent states. At one point Switzerland represented the interests of 35 states in their enemies' capitals, including the Allies in Axis capitals and the Axis in Allied capitals simultaneously, totalling around 200 mandates. The Swiss were able to cover various issues between the warring states, including the repatriation of prisoners of war, the welfare of Rudolf Hess after his arrival in Scotland and notification of Japan's acceptance of unconditional surrender.

Since the Second World War, Switzerland has been given over 67 protecting power mandates during several conflicts, including the Congo Crisis, the Suez Crisis, the Falklands War and the Kosovomarker conflict. In Havanamarker, Switzerland represented the interests of eleven Latin - and North American states after the Cuban revolution led these states to withdraw diplomatic relations (since restored in most cases), and Switzerland was instrumental in resolving disputes involving hijackings and refugees between Cuba and the United States. Following the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Switzerland took on additional mandates in the Middle East, and had at one time 25 assignments, the greatest number since 1945. Switzerland provided protecting power representation between India and Pakistan until the two states formalised diplomatic relations in 1976, and supervised the movement of over 320,000 refugees between these countries.

Switzerland now only has four protecting power mandates -- to represent the governments of Cubamarker and the United Statesmarker in each other's capitals and represent the United States in Iranmarker and to represent Iran in Egyptmarker. Agreements were signed that Switzerland is going to represent the governments of Russiamarker and Georgiamarker in each other's capitals though these agreements are not yet implemented.

Other diplomatic protecting power relationships

  • Sweden is the protecting power for the United States, Australia and other Western countries in North Koreamarker for consular matters, "with assistance from Germany as needed." Previously Sweden was the protecting power for the UK in Iranmarker following the Islamic Revolution (and briefly after the Salman Rushdie affair, shortly after the two states had restored relations). In the Second World War Sweden was entrusted with representing 114 mandates for 28 countries.
  • Pakistan is the protecting power for Iran in the United States along with Switzerland. Algeria previously had this role.
  • Argentina is the protecting power for Ecuador in Colombia after the former broke diplomatic relationships with the latter in March 2008, following a Colombian incursion in Ecuadorian territorymarker which ended in the death of top FARC member Raúl Reyes.
  • During the period of Indonesianmarker occupation of East Timormarker (1975-1999), the relations between Portugalmarker and Indonesia were severed, and the Netherlands were the protecting power for Portugal in Indonesia while Thailand was the protecting power for Indonesia in Portugal.
  • Belgium was the protecting power for the United States in Libyamarker until 2006 when diplomatic relations were restored.
  • Canada was for a time the protecting power for Israel in Cuba.
  • Italy was the protecting power for Libya in the United Kingdom following the shooting of Yvonne Fletcher in 1984. Saudi Arabia represented Libya in the UK.
  • Jordan was the protecting power for Saddam Hussein's Iraqmarker in the United Kingdom after the first Gulf War.
  • Poland was the protecting power for the United States in Iraq after the first Gulf War.
  • Cyprus was the protecting power for Yugoslavia during the war in 1990s.

Certain countries may have agreements to provide limited consular services to the citizens of other countries. This does not necessarily constitute a protecting power relationship, as the host country may not have formally agreed, and there may in fact be diplomatic relations between the host country and the third country, but no physical representation. Without the agreement of the host country, consular officials in this role may not be recognized as representing the interests of another, and be limited to a "good offices" role.
  • The United States provides consular services to citizens of the Federated States of Micronesiamarker, the Republic of the Marshall Islandsmarker and the Republic of Palaumarker, which formerly were part of a US Trust Territory.
  • Certain Commonwealth countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, have agreements in certain countries to provide consular services for citizens of the other countries where they do not have physical representation. Canada provides consular assistance to Australian citizens to several states in Latin America and Africa; while Australian diplomatic missions reciprocate in several Asia-Pacific states.
  • Citizens of European Union countries may request consular services at the missions of other EU countries when their home country does not have a mission locally.
  • In 2006, Governments of Montenegro and Serbia adopted the Memorandum of Agreement between the Republic of Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia on Consular Protection and Services to the Citizens of Montenegro. By this agreement, Serbiamarker, through its network of diplomatic and consular missions, provides consular services to the Montenegrin citizens on the territory of states in which Montenegro has no missions of its own.

Other meanings

  • Historically a protecting power held a permanent protectorate over a weaker state, which in practice could constitute a form of colonial domination, in the logic of indirect rule.
  • The term friendly protection also applied to 'guarantor' state(s) vowing to prevent the protected state (or a specific part) being overrun by a third party.
  • Protecting power has a distinct and separate meaning under the Geneva Conventions for protection of civilians in times of war.


  1. Probst, R. (1989). "Good Offices" in the Light of Swiss International Practice and Experience. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 978-0792301417
  2. Fischer, T. (2002). Switzerland's good offices: a changing concept, 1945-2002 (PDF). Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Forschungsstelle für Internationale Beziehungen.
  3. Iran Foreign Entry Requirements, A Briggs
  4. Georgian Foreign Minister Receives Head Of Swiss FDFA, UNOMIG, January 13, 2009
  5. Loislaw Federal District Court
  7. Africa Research Bureau. (1984). Africa Research Bulletin. Africa Research. p. 7228
  8. DFAIT

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