Protecting power

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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, "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 whom both countries have diplomatic relations, to use its "good offices" and act on its behalf as the protecting power.[1]

In the host country, the protecting power is empowered to represent the property and interests of the protected country. This may extend to caring for the diplomatic property of its protectee or acting as consular officers on behalf of its citizens. If the two countries are at war, the protecting power will also inquire into the welfare of prisoners of war.

The role of "protecting power" originally developed in time of war and is formalized in the Geneva Conventions. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations also provide for a similar status in time of peace, but do not use the "protecting power" terminology.[2]


The Swiss Embassy in Washington, D.C. also represents Cuba's interests in the United States

The protecting power is appointed by the protected state and must also be acceptable to the host state. It must therefore maintain diplomatic relations with both states. In time of war, the Geneva Conventions also require that the protecting power be a neutral country. The specific responsibilities and arrangements are agreed between the protecting power, the protected power, and the host country.

In a comprehensive mandate, the protecting power carries out most functions on behalf of the protected state. This is necessary when relations are so tense or hostile that the sparring nations have no diplomatic or consular staff posted on each other's territory. For example, Sweden carries out limited consular functions for the United States, Canada, and Australia in North Korea.

In other cases, the two nations have broken diplomatic relations, but are willing to exchange personnel on an informal basis. The protecting power serves as the mechanism for facilitating this exchange. The original embassy remains staffed by nationals of the protected state but is formally termed an "interests section" of the protecting power. For example, the Cuban Interests Section is staffed by Cubans and occupies the old Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., but it is formally a section of the Swiss Embassy to the United States.


The protecting power relationship originated in the Franco-Prussian War, when the belligerents expelled each other's diplomats and placed restrictions on enemy aliens. This made it necessary for belligerents to appoint protecting powers to represent their citizens' interests in enemy countries.[3]

The practice became customary in international law but was not formalized until the Geneva Convention of 1929. The lack of formalization forced arrangements to be worked out on a case-by-case basis. During the Second Boer War, the British Empire selected the United States to be its protecting power in the Boer Republics, but the Boers refused to accept this status or to appoint a protecting power of their own. However, the Boers did allow the United States to look after the interests of British and Boer prisoners of war.[3]

There is no requirement that the same protecting power be selected by both countries, although this is convenient for the purposes of communication. Each may select its own protecting power, provided that the choice is acceptable to the other state. There is also no requirement that a country select only one protecting power in the receiving country. During World War II, Japan appointed Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland to be its protecting powers in the United States.[3]

During World War II, Axis-leaning Spain and the Nazi-occupied Netherlands were unable to serve the role of protecting power that they had served in World War I. As a result, Switzerland and Sweden became the most popular choices for protecting power. Switzerland formally undertook 219 mandates for 35 states, and represented another eight states unofficially, while Sweden accepted 114 mandates for 28 states.[4] Switzerland and Sweden both chose to remain non-aligned in the Cold War and refused to join any military alliances, leading to their continued popularity as protecting powers.

Current protecting power relationships[edit]

Protecting power Protected state Host state Notes
Czech Republic United States Syria [2]
France United States Central African Republic [2]
Hungary Australia Syria [5]
Hungary Canada Syria [6]
Italy Canada Iran [7]
Pakistan Iran United States [8]
Sweden Australia North Korea [9]
Sweden Canada North Korea [9]
Sweden United States North Korea [2][9]
Switzerland Cuba United States ,[10] see also Cuban Interests Section
Switzerland Georgia Russia [11]
Switzerland Iran Egypt [10]
Switzerland Russia Georgia [10][12]
Switzerland United States Cuba ,[2][10] see also United States Interests Section in Havana
Switzerland United States Iran [2][10]
Oman Iran Canada [10][13]

Historical protecting power relationships[edit]

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"[citation needed] role.

  • The United States provides consular services to citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau, which formerly were part of a US Trust Territory.[citation needed]
  • 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. The United Kingdom provides consular assistance to Canadians abroad where there is no Canadian mission, as stated in each Canadian passport. 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.[26][27]
  • Under Article 20 section 2c of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU) 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.[28]
  • In 2006, the 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, Serbia, 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.[29]

Other meanings[edit]

  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[30]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Article 12(1) of Geneva Convention IV 1949
  2. ^ a b c d e f U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual (PDF). 7 FAM 1020. 
  3. ^ a b c Levie, Howard (1961). "Prisoners of War and the Protecting Power". American Journal of International Law 55. 
  4. ^ Schelbert, Leo (2014). "Good offices". Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 153. ISBN 9781442233522. 
  5. ^ Lee Berthiaume (March 8, 2012). "Australia secures assistance for citizens still in Syria". Postmedia News. 
  6. ^ Lee Berthiaume (March 7, 2012). "Australians left scrambling as Canada shutters embassy". Postmedia News. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran". Embassy of Pakistan, Washington, D.C. 
  9. ^ a b c "About the Embassy". Embassy of Sweden, Pyongyang. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (4 April 2012). "Protective power mandates". 
  11. ^ "Georgia's Interests Section of the Swiss Confederation's Embassy to the Russian Federation". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. 
  12. ^ "Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia, Russian Federation Interests Section". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Argentina and Britain Move To Restore Diplomatic Ties, New York Times, September 1, 1989
  15. ^ The British Interests Section in Kampala, 1976-7, G.R Berridge, January 2012 .
  16. ^ British Diplomats, Hansard, HC Deb 25 April 1984 vol 58 cc718-9
  17. ^ "Canada Thanks Italy for Agreeing to Represent Interests in Iran". Foreign Affairs Media Relations Office. 17 September 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  18. ^ "Iran Not Consulted on Selection of Italian Embassy as Canada's Interests Section". Fars News Agency. 18 September 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  19. ^ Indonesia names envoy to Lisbon, Jakarta Post, November 16, 2000
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Africa Research Bureau. (1984). Africa Research Bulletin. Africa Research. p. 7228
  23. ^ "The Embassy - Welcome to the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, North Korea". SwedenAbroad. Retrieved May 29, 2014. Until 2001, Sweden was the only Western country with diplomatic representation in [North Korea]... Seven EU countries now have embassies in the capital Pyongyang, including the UK and Germany... In particular, Sweden functions as Protective Power for the United States, Australia and Canada, including consular responsibility for citizens. 
  24. ^ "Tehran and London formalize Embassy closures". The Daily Star (Lebanon). 28 June 2012. Retrieved 2 July 2012. 
  25. ^ "Turkey to serve as protecting power for U.S. in Libya". CNN. 24 August 2011. 
  26. ^ DFAIT Canada
  27. ^ DFAT Australia
  28. ^ Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Europa
  29. ^
  30. ^ "From Geneva to Sri Lanka". International Relations and Security Network. ReliefWeb. 12 August 2009. Retrieved 2010-09-14. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is the official protecting power of the Geneva Conventions, has just put forward guidance on what it means to take part in hostilities, according to their understanding. 

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