Parliamentary diplomacy in kazakhstan: evolution, institutionalization and implementation mechanism

Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Master of Public Administration, Master in International Relations (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan)

Abstract. Contemporary international relations are a complex multi-level system, where various governmental, non-governmental and other entities interact. parliaments have become new actors in modern global affairs. In most regions of the world, interparliamentary unions exist, where elected members of the Parliament advocate for the national interests of their countries. Interaction of members of the Parliament on the international arena caused a new type of diplomacy to occur: ‘parliamentary diplomacy’. However, this topic has not been extensively researched by scholars yet. The purpose of the present paper is to examine parliamentary diplomacy as an instrument in Kazakhstan`s foreign policy. The author reviews the evolution of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan since the foundation of the Kazakh Khanate in the XV-XVI centuries and its institutionalization stage after the country became independent. The parliamentary diplomacy's implementation mechanism by Kazakhstan's Parliament is described.Based on qualitative analysis, the author provides practical recommendations for further development of parliamentary diplomacy in the Republic of Kazakhstan.


Globalization has transformed international relations into a multi-level and complex system [1]. In modern foreign affairs, not only governments but also other actors influence the status quo [2]. As classic diplomacy becomes rare, new forms of global cooperation emerge in the international arena, such as economic, cultural, and public diplomacy [3]. Parliaments simply do not have a choice but to get involved in the new world politics [4]. That is how the new phenomenon “parliamentary diplomacy” emerged.

According to scholars, the origins of parliamentary diplomacy can be traced back to 1889 [5], [6], [3], [7], when a small group of parliamentarians established the foundation for the global organization of national parliaments - The Interparliamentary Union [8]. However, one of the prominent scientists Robert M. Cutler points to the work of Irwin Abrams – “History of European Peace Societies, 1867-1899,” where the phenomenon of parliamentary diplomacy was said to have been originating from the International League of Peace and Freedom, an organization created back in 1867 [9].

After the First and Second World Wars, the number of international treaties began to grow rapidly. The harmonization of national legislation, as well as synchronization of ratification processes hence became necessary. Thus, the role of parliamentarians in the international arena increased while bilateral and multilateral parliamentary relations became widespread. Inter-Parliamentary Unions were the natural next step. They were being founded in different parts of the world — for example, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Latin American Parliament, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, the Andean Parliament, the InterParliamentary Assembly of CIS. Today there are more than 70 officially registered interparliamentary unions [5], [10]. Parliamentary diplomacy started to be a conscious and deliberate policy of the state in many countries. Thus, according to researchers, parliaments have become new actors in international relations [1], [11], [12], [13], [14].

Despite the widespread use of parliamentary diplomacy in practice, it has not been thoroughly researched yet. There is a lack of a clear definition in place that would help understand this phenomenon. Götz notes the ambiguity of the concept of parliamentary diplomacy is a fact that cannot be ignored” [15, p. 265]. A few different interpretations of the term "parliamentary diplomacy" are discussed below.

The term parliamentary diplomacy was first mentioned by Joseph Stalin in the early 1920s when he condemned the policy of the Socialist International before 1914: Instead of a revolutionary policy, there was flabby philistinism and sordid political bargaining, parliamentary diplomacy and parliamentary scheming” [16, p. 21]. Rusk claims the main task of parliamentary diplomacy is the improvement of mutual understanding between states, tightening control over the executive branch, and a better representation of the people [17]. Cutler writes that parliamentary diplomacy represents today, from both an analytical and a practical standpoint, an important middle ground between the traditional level of interstate diplomacy and the new level of transnational cooperation among grassroots non-governmental organizations” [18, p. 202]. Weisglasa & de Boer define Parliamentary Diplomacy as the full range of international activities undertaken by parliamentarians in order to increase mutual understanding between countries, to assist each other in improving the control of governments and the representation of a people and to increase the democratic legitimacy of inter-governmental institutions'' [19, pp. 93-94]. Stavridis and Jancic note that “in the broadest sense, parliamentary diplomacy could be defined as individual or collective action by parliamentarians aimed at 'catalysing, facilitating and strengthening the existing constitutional functions of parliaments through dialogues between peers on countless open policy questions across continents and levels of governance” [3, p. 111]. Furthermore, Šabic adhere to the definition of the Member of the European Parliament Vera Squarcialupi, who understands parliamentary diplomacy as “institutional links of a traditional kind as well as those formed spontaneously and then institutionalized, thus enabling parliamentarians, acting within their remit, to tackle major problems which transcend national borders, with a view to launching initiatives designed to influence political decisions by the executive and pave the way for practical solutions.” [20, p. 44].

For the purpose of this article, Beetham's definition of parliamentary diplomacy will be used. He defines it as “all forms of cooperation of parliamentarians” [21, p. 173]. The author of this article adds a minor clarification to the above definition: “parliamentary diplomacy includes all forms of cooperation of parliamentarians [concerning international relations]”. Although this definition is not ideal, it summarizes all of the abovementioned definitions and highlights the internationality aspect of parliamentarians' interactions.

The lack of a unified approach to the definition of parliamentary diplomacy is likely due to the fact that it has not yet been fully accepted as an independent discipline [1]. According to research, little attention has been paid to parliamentary diplomacy as an actor in international relations [1],[22],[15],[12],[19],[13]. Zabich et al. note that it is somewhat surprising that the mainstream international relations literature consistently sets aside an important element of democratic orders: directly elected parliamentarians” [20, p. 44].

In fact, parliamentary diplomacy has been studied fragmentarily. The vast majority of English-language research papers on it are devoted to the European Parliament [23]. The parliamentary diplomacy of the Russian Federation was most commonly studied in the Russian language. In this regard, Varlen argues that in Russian science "the institution of parliamentary diplomacy is gradually being formed into an independent field of scientific research, and the high practical significance stimulates an in-depth analysis of its essence and conceptual developments" [1, p. 56]. The international activity of Asian countries' parliaments is not commonly studied in depth [13]. Central Asian legislative branches are researched even less commonly.

In Kazakhstan, parliamentary diplomacy, like everywhere else, has not been studied sufficiently. A notable work by the Kazakh researcher Tagayev "The role and place of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan in inter-parliamentary cooperation" analyzes the emergence of foreign policy activities by the supreme legislative body [24]. The article "Parliamentary diplomacy in action" by the former chairman of the Senate Committee on International Affairs, Defense and Security Ikram Adyrbekov deserves special attention as it describes, from a practical point of view, the international activities of the Kazakhstani members of the Parliament [25].

In summary, parliamentary diplomacy has already become a new actor in international relations since the mid-20th century, but researchers continue to pay little attention to this phenomenon. Because there is not enough research and knowledge regarding parliamentary diplomacy, it continues to be an important field for potential studies. Deeply analyzing topics like the quantitative and qualitative influence of parliaments on countries' foreign policies, coining the perfect definition for parliamentary diplomacy, building future models and theories of parliamentary diplomacy could be a task before political scientists of the 21st century.

The purpose of this study is to consider the prerequisites for the emergence of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan, determine its level of institutionalization, as well as to identify the mechanisms for its implementation. Finally, based on the analysis, recommendations will be made about further development of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan.


This paper uses various methods of historical research, such as historical-genetic, retrospective, typological, and comparative research. As a result, the author tries to describe the evolution and development of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan. Furthermore, the article aims to show distinctive periods in which this development has occurred. The article covers the history of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan starting from its inception in the XV-XVI centuries, until its institutionalization stage that occurred during the period of the country’s independence. The author applies a qualitative approach and reviews the existing literature on the topic, including books, scientific journal articles, regulatory documents, archival documents, memoranda, reports of officials, and other documents.

While working on the article, the author adhered to the theory of liberalism in international relations, which assumes there are also other actors in international relations besides states and formal governments. These actors are international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, transnational corporations, and other cultural and social entities and unions. In the article, the parliament is viewed as a new independent actor in modern international relations.

Evolution of Kazakhstani parliamentary diplomacy

Kazakhstani parliamentary diplomacy has a deep history and dates back to the beginning of the 15th-16th centuries when the Kazakh Khanate was formed. The prototype of the Parliament was the Kurultai - a meeting of the most famous representatives of the Kazakh zhuzes[8] such as famous warriors, poets, representatives of the highest clergy, and other influential people of the Kazakh society. At the Kurultai, the most important matters of the entire khanate were discussed, including those relating to foreign policy. As noted by the historian Artykbaev in his book “History of Kazakhstan (90 questions and answers)”, the most important affairs of the society were brought up to the Kurultai: solving issues of territory, diplomacy, succession to the throne and military actions” [26, p. 74.].

The code of laws called “Zhety Zhargy”, which literally means “Seven Decrees” was adopted at the Kurultai in the late 17th - early 18th century [27]. This document became the prototype of the first Constitution of the Kazakh people, as it regulated the main aspects of the steppe Kazakhs` everyday life. Although researchers disagree on the exact content of these seven decrees and today there are about 200 different versions and interpretations of the document, respected scientists such as the Kazakh historian-ethnographer Alkey Margulan and a Chinese researcher Pozhypina Bai Suichin agree that section 4 of “Zhety Zhargy” was devoted to the law of ambassadors [28]. Hence, “Zhety Zhargy” regulated not only the most important areas of day-to-day life of the nomadic Kazakh people, but it also touched upon the issues of diplomatic service [29]. Thus, the first Kurultais discussed the topic of international relations at the legislative level, giving rise to Kazakhstani parliamentary diplomacy.

The next development stage of Kazakhstan's foreign policy activity occurred after the nation became a part of the Russian Empire in the mid- 18th century. By the early 20th century, 150 years later, over 10 Kazakh parliamentarians had become part of the I and II National Dumas (Parliaments) of the Russian Empire [27], [30], [31]. Their active participation advanced the agricultural reforms, migration policies, and its impact on the domestic life of the native population, among many others [32]. In essence, thanks to Kazakh parliamentarians in the Duma, the problems of the native Kazakh people became known, discussed, and considered on a national level. As far back as the early 20th century, Kazakh parliamentarians participated in the legislative body of the Russian Empire in order to advance their region's interests.

When comparing the early 20th-century Kazakh parliamentarians in the Duma with members of the Kurultai back in the day, it becomes evident how much Kazakhstan's parliamentary diplomacy has advanced. While back in the XVI-XVIII centuries only political matters were discussed at Kurultais (going to war or staying at peace would be an example), in the early 20th century Dumas Kazakh parliamentarians began to bring up social and cultural aspects of their people's lives.

After the Russian Empire collapsed, the legislative power was assumed by the unicameral executive body called the Supreme Soviet, formed in 1937. Members of the Supreme Soviet assumed the power to decide whether Kazakhstan continued to be part of the USSR or chose to leave. In a sense, members of the Supreme Soviet, although indirectly, continued to be members of the international political arena while influencing and participating in foreign affairs in their region.

Once the USSR collapsed on December 16th, 1991, Kazakhstan finally gained full independence. The Supreme Soviet of 1993 was established soon after and assumed most of the functions the Supreme Soviet of the USSR had.

A key document at the time was Article 64 of the Constitutional Law of Independence. It specifically laid the groundwork for the institutionalization of Kazakhstan's parliamentary diplomacy that was about to happen. In Article 64, the Supreme Soviet agreed to appoint heads of embassies all over the world, established a system of diplomatic ranks, as well as granted its members the right to solve matters of war and peace on a national level [38]. In essence, when Kazakhstan gained independence, parliamentary diplomacy in the country reached its final development stage before its institutionalization.

Institutionalization of Parliamentary Diplomacy in the Republic of Kazakhstan

The Institutionalization of Kazakhstan's Parliamentary Diplomacy began in 1995 when, for the first time in the nation's history, an official bicameral Parliament was created. It consisted of the Senate (the Upper Chamber), and the Mazhilis (the Lower Chamber). In order to assess the degree of institutionalization of Kazakhstan's Parliament, the main criteria for this assessment must first be identified and analyzed.

The article will compare Kazakhstan's system with its international colleagues. The most "relevant" nation for such comparison would be the Russian Federation for a few reasons. Both of them share a common past – being part of the Soviet Union, where the Supreme Soviet assumed the legislative power. In essence, both of these nations for over 50 years (1937 - 1991) existed in the same political and parliamentary system. Furthermore, both of them currently are strong Presidential systems where the President assumes executive power, determines the foreign policy agenda. In both Kazakhstan and Russia, the Parliament is forced to stay in the acting President's line and promote the suggested foreign policy agenda.

In fact, the Russian Federation uses parliamentary diplomacy as a soft power in its foreign affairs [33], a strategy that Kazakhstan's Parliament could potentially adopt. In Russia, parliamentary diplomacy is an important field; the high-ranking officials, as well as the academia, recognize its importance in the country's foreign policy [34], [1], [35], [36], [37]. Russia's political scientists highlight the importance of theoretical research and practical implementation of parliamentary diplomacy.

The main trait that verifies a high level of institutionalization in Russian parliamentary diplomacy is the existence of key documents that regulate the foreign policy activity of the highest legislative body. These documents are:

  1. The Constitution of the Russian Federation
  2. Laws
  3. Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation
  4. Internal Documentation for the Federal Assembly (the Parliament), including the Decrees and Orders of the Federation Council (the Senate) [1].

When assessing the degree of institutionalization of Kazakhstan's parliamentary diplomacy, the author will view it through the prism of Russian experience.

The parliamentary diplomacy of independent Kazakhstan gained legal grounds according to Part IV of the Constitution in 1995. It clarified the responsibilities of the Parliament, including involvement: in foreign affairs and matters of war and peace (Article 53, Line 4); in the ratification and denunciation of international treaties (Article 54, Line 5); in the establishment of diplomatic ranks (Article 54, Line 4) [38].

On the legislative level, the interactions between the Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are regulated according to the "Law of Diplomatic Service to the Republic of Kazakhstan" from March 7th, 2002 [39]. The Law states that communicating recommendations regarding foreign affairs and suggested foreign policy agenda to the Parliament is a key task of diplomatic service. The Law also obligates diplomats to assist the Parliament in establishing inter-parliamentary connections with foreign governments and other non-governmental organizations (Article 6, Line 5, Line 14) [39]. In essence, this law regulates the interaction between Kazakhstan's Parliament and the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Furthermore, the institutionalization of Kazakhstan's parliamentary diplomacy is evident from the way the country approaches its foreign affairs. A document called "The Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2014-2020" says: Kazakhstan will continue utilizing the potential of parliamentary diplomacy both within multilateral and bilateral inter-parliamentary associations in order to develop political, trade-economic and cultural-humanitarian ties with the world’s inter-parliamentary associations” (Chapter 1, Line 9) [40]. The keyword here is "continue," which highlights the fact that the government is already using parliamentary diplomacy as a tool in its foreign policy.

The next, 2020-2030 Concept mentions parliamentary diplomacy as well. Kazakhstan is “Harnessing the potential of “parliamentary diplomacy” to promote political, economic and humanitarian ties” (Chapter 5, Line 3.14) [41]. Evidently, in the current 2020-2030 "Concept" parliamentary diplomacy is presented as a key tool not just for inter-parliamentary unions, but also assumes a broader set of applications in the context of international relations.

One of the main internal documents of the highest legislative body that regulates international and inter-parliamentary alliances or partnerships is the set of "Regulations for the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan," dated May 20th, 1996 [42]. This document specifically outlines the important roles and functions of the Parliament, including its mission in the country's foreign affairs. Part VIII, Line 125 allows the Parliament to collaborate and sign treaties and agreements with parliaments of other nations [42].

Other documents that demonstrate the institutionalization of Kazakhstan's parliamentary diplomacy are the Regulations of the Senate and the Regulations of the Mazhilis [43], [44], dated February 8th, 1996. These milestone documents contain recommendations and suggested mechanisms of international diplomacy by the Parliament of Kazakhstan, including cooperation with other governments, parliaments, and international inter-parliamentary organizations.

The 2013–2015 Parliamentary Diplomacy Development Roadmap was one of the official strategic documents regarding parliamentary diplomacy that contributed to its institutionalization [45]. It provided additional recommendations (on top of the ones listed in the Law of Diplomatic Service) on how the Parliament should cooperate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on foreign policy aspects. This is another proof that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working jointly with the Parliament in organizing international visits, formal meetings, international events and also assists in forming delegations. This Roadmap became a bridge between Kazakhstan’s Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the development of parliamentary diplomacy.

In summary, it becomes clear that today Kazakhstan's parliamentary diplomacy has completed its institutionalization stage. Key evidence that highlights this would be the legislative and internal documents that formulate and regulate the role of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan's foreign policy.

Parliamentary Diplomacy Implementation Mechanism in Kazakhstan

The mechanisms of conducting international activity are relatively similar for the two chambers of Kazakhstan's Parliament, however, there are certain differences. In both chambers, the Chairmen develop the foreign policy agenda. In the Senate, the Deputy Chairman is in charge of foreign affairs. He has a high diplomatic rank (Ambassador) and considerable work experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the Mazhilis, this function is occupied by the Chairman of the International Affairs, Defense, and Security. This person has also got significant experience in international relations, having obtained the "1st Class Ambassador" rank. It becomes evident that in both chambers of the Parliament, professional and experienced diplomats are in charge of parliamentary diplomacy.

However, it is important to recognize that the rest of Kazakhstani parliamentarians do not have such broad and rich diplomatic or international experience. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the best international experience. The Senate of the Netherlands signed the Memorandum of Parliamentary Diplomacy in 2010 [46]. This document outlines the key ideas within the field of parliamentary diplomacy, explains its role, importance, and includes a developmental plan for the future. Adopting a similar internal document would potentially increase the awareness of Kazakhstan's parliamentarians who do not have the same level of international experience as their superiors.

The administrations of the Senate and the Mazhilis play a key role in developing a strategy for the implementation of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan. The Administration staff accompany the members of the Parliament in their international trips and support them legally, analytically, and technically. Administrations of the Senate and the Mazhilis have an "International Department" unit. Its role is researching and bringing up for discussion various analytical data and documents, which is important for the foreign affairs of the Parliament.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that administrations of the Senate and the Mazhilis preserve institutional memory of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan. Charters of both the Senate and the Mazhilis state that, in case the Parliament itself gets disbanded, or parliamentarians’ terms end, the administration staff continues fulfilling their duties [43], [44]. In essence, administrations pass on the experience of the previous convocation to the incoming parliamentarians. This consistent transfer of experience allows for a smooth transition between generations of parliamentarians. As a result, it ensures continuity of parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan.


Parliaments have become new actors in the system of modern international relations. Parliamentarians around the world build legislative bridges between countries. Interparliamentary unions operate in most regions of the world, where a new type of diplomacy – parliamentary diplomacy – emerged.

The Republic of Kazakhstan is actively getting involved in this process; its parliamentary diplomacy has now gone through its development and institutionalization stages. Its implementation mechanism is clearly defined and fully operational. Based on the analysis of its institutionalization phase and its implementation mechanism, the author suggests the following recommendations for further development of parliamentary diplomacy in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Firstly, a new 2022–2030 Parliamentary Diplomacy Development Roadmap should be adopted. This document would synchronize the parliamentary diplomacy developmental strategy in Kazakhstan with the overall foreign policy agenda. The roadmap should be updated on a regular basis.

Secondly, considering the important role of the Parliament's Administration staff in developing an implementation strategy for parliamentary diplomacy in Kazakhstan, their qualifications and professionalism should always be of the highest standard. To ensure that, these officials should be required to take additional courses at The National Graduate School of Public Administration in Kazakhstan or study Public Administration and International Relations in some of the best universities worldwide. Finally, they should gain additional experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or The Administration of the President, as well as visit and adopt best practices from parliaments of the most developed nations in the world.

Thirdly, this article suggests adopting the Memorandum of parliamentary diplomacy from the Senate of The Netherlands, ensuring that all Kazakhstani parliamentarians follow the guidelines and rules mentioned in the document. Each member of the Parliament has to be aware of their important role in protecting the national interests of the country in the international political arena.

Finally, as the old wisdom goes, "Theory without practice is useless, practice without theory is dangerous." It is of the utmost importance for Kazakhstan's political scientists to continue active research on parliamentary diplomacy. This field continues to be poorly studied and a lot of topics remain ignored by the scientific community. Qualitative, as well as quantitative studies of Kazakhstan's foreign policy practices by the highest legislative body of the country, might further improve the practical implementation of parliamentary diplomacy in the future.



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Year: 2021
City: Almaty