BY ANUSH GHAVALYAN
The past years have witnessed a remarkable increase of parliamentary engagement in the field of foreign policy and international politics. This has largely stemmed from parliaments broadening their legislative powers in foreign affairs to include the ratification of international treaties and other issues in the foreign arena. As the elected representative body of a state, legislatures are getting more and more engaged in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy. The growing role of international parliamentary organizations also speaks to that effect.
Unlike the Executive branch of government, which is rather confined to its traditional role in the policy domain, legislators are relatively uninhibited in reflecting their respective positions on foreign policy issues, which may or may not concur with official state posture. In this respect, lawmakers have ample latitude generally not afforded to diplomats. As some authors claim, legislators are more inclined to bring a moral dimension to international politics, which transcends the narrower definitions of national interests particularly vis-à-vis their unequivocal support of democracy and human rights. Moreover, legislators are mostly exempt from superfluous formalities and able to focus on basic human needs that are universal.
Compared to recognized countries where parliamentary diplomacy functions parallel to conventional diplomacy, in non-recognized states that have limited opportunities to make foreign policy, the importance of non-conventional diplomacy is even more underscored. In this context, the track record of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) showcases the successful implementation of parliamentary diplomacy.
Artsakh unilaterally proclaimed independence in 1991. Though it fully qualifies for “statehood” (territory, population, government, capacity to enter into relation with other states) as enshrined in the Montevideo convention (1933), it is not recognized de-jure by any state. Notwithstanding the limited prospects for pursuing traditional foreign policy, Artsakh actively engages in parliamentary diplomacy upon every opportunity. Unlike state officials of different countries who avoid engaging in discussions related to Artsakh or making official visits, the legislators of those same countries are much more flexible with respect to having public deliberations on Artsakh. The geographical location of those parliamentarians is diverse: from Uruguay to Canada, from Mexico to Australia and from Portugal to the UK. Moreover, the independence of Artsakh is supported not only by individual members of parliament but also by many state legislatures. Thus, eight U.S. states — Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan — and New South Wales in Australia have adopted resolutions supporting and recognizing the right of the people of Artsakh to have independent statehood.
Furthermore, Armenian organizations in the Diaspora, especially the Armenian National Committee of America, the Armenian Assembly of America, ANC-Europe, as well as the National Assembly of Armenia support Artsakh in its efforts of developing foreign ties.
In the past years, parliamentary diplomacy has been institutionalized through the establishment of inter-parliamentary committees (Armenia-Artsakh Inter Parliamentary Committee on Cooperation, friendship agreements, such as the European Parliament-Artsakh Friendship Group, the Flanders (Belgium)-Artsakh Friendship Group, as well as the Lithuania-Artsakh Friendship Circle, the France-Artsakh Friendship Circle and Francophone legislators, representatives of scientific and public spheres of the Belgium-Artsakh Friendship Circle. Counterparts groups formed in Artsakh work closely with those entities.
Cooperation through these channels affords not only the appropriate forums for sharing experiences on legislation, democracy, human rights, decentralized governance, culture and other themes, but it also provides a unique tool for overcoming the artificial barriers that keep the people of not recognized countries isolated from international politics.
The accumulated experience in parliamentary diplomacy, together with the opportunities that will arise from established linkages create a solid foundation for further expanding the boundaries of foreign ties and enhancing the integration of the people of Artsakh in the international community.
Anush Ghavalyan is an advisor to the Speaker of the Artsakh National Assembly and a 2017 Tavitian Scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.