FY2015 Department of State Budget

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations
Washington, DC
March 13, 2014

Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, and Ranking Member Graham and all the members of the committee, senators, good friends of mine. And I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to be able to testify here. But even more so, I am really grateful for each of your service on this committee. I was around here long enough to know the difference between those committees that are easy to translate at home, and this is one of the hardest. This foreign relations committee, it’s tough, because people at home don’t always see the connection. And Senator Graham, I want to pick up on your comments about that in a minute, if I can.

I want to begin just – and I’m going to be very brief in my opening statement. I want to begin by, first of all, just telling you what a privilege it is for me to lead this extraordinary Department, the Department of State, USAID, and the remarkable men and women who put themselves on the line every single day. They’re not wearing a uniform, but a whole bunch of them are taking risks in this dangerous world we live in. And they’re doing it because of their love of country, because of their desire to try to change things for the better in the world and take our values abroad and help to protect our interests. And they do it in amazing ways.

Senator Graham just mentioned the effort of sort of trying. I believe we’re getting a lot of things done, and I believe we are making a difference in many places, and we can talk about that in the course of the morning, because it really is part of what translates into the return on investment that Senator Graham talked about. And there are just so many different parts of the world where people don’t see how America has made the difference, but we are making the difference in place after place. And that makes America – people say: Well, okay. So what? What does that mean? It makes America more secure. It also opens up relationships that wind up growing economies, which means business for American companies, means jobs at home, in every state, every district in America, and we can show that. And we need to do more of showing it, and we intend to.

But right now I would just say to all of you that the one thing that struck me more than anything else in the course of the last year – and I say this without any chauvinism or arrogance at all – but it’s the degree to which our leadership does make a difference, it’s the degree to which if we’re not engaged in one place or another bad things often happen. We’re not the only force. I’m not claiming that. We have great allies, great partners, in these efforts, and some of them are equally as indispensable. But we do make that kind of a difference.

Last week, I was standing in Kyiv, looking at the light – lampposts that were riddled with bullet holes, barricades made up of tires and bedposts and different detritus from homes, and an amazing film of burnt ash and mud on the street. And this remarkable memorial had grown up spontaneously to the people who were killed there – flowers piled upon flowers, candles, photographs of those who died. It was incredibly moving. And to talk to the people there and listen to them express their hopes, their desire to just be able to make choices like people in other countries, is – it was a privilege to listen to them. But I have to tell you, they are waiting for the world to sort of back them up in these aspirations and to help them.

And what is true in Kyiv is true in so many other places, where people look to us to be able to try to provide opportunity. South Sudan, a nation which many of you helped give birth to, is struggling now and needs our support to have a chance of surviving beyond its infamy[1] so it doesn’t fall back into its history of being the longest war in Africa that has taken more than two million lives.

What we do matters in the Maghreb, where the State Department is coordinating with France in order to take down al-Qaida there, make sure that French forces have the technology and the weapons that they need.

What we do matters in Central Asia, where we’re working with several nations to stop the trafficking of narcotics and keep more heroin off our streets and cut off financing for terrorists and extremists, all of which makes Americans safer.

What we do matters on the Korean Peninsula, where we’re working with our partners in the Republic of Korea to make sure that we can meet any threat and to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. I was recently, a few weeks ago, in China, where we had very serious discussions about what the Chinese can do in addition to what they’re already doing in order to have a greater impact on the denuclearization process. And we are working with Japan and the Republic of Korea in order to make sure they don’t feel so threatened that they move towards nuclearization in self-help. Thanks to the State Department’s work, South Koreans are now making the largest contribution they have ever made towards our joint security agreement.

What we do matters significantly where we support freedom of religion, and that is true from Bosnia to Indonesia, protecting universal rights of people to practice their faith freely and working to bring an end to the scourge of anti-Semitism. And it isn’t just what we do in the budget – and Mr. Chairman, you know this better than anybody – it’s an essential part of who we are as Americans.

I also know from my experience here in Congress, particularly under the budget constraints that you’ve referred to, that you shouldn’t tell anybody that anything that costs billions of dollars is a bargain. We understand this is important money to American citizens. But when you consider that the American people pay just one penny of every dollar in the tax dollar for the 46.2 billion that is our budget, flat-lined and down from where it was in 2013, I believe the American people are getting an extraordinary return on investment.

Now, some members of Congress believe we ought to have larger budget cuts, but I have to say to you, when I measure what is happening in the world – the challenge in the Maghreb, in the Sahel, in the Levant, in all of the Middle East, in South Asia, the challenge of huge numbers of young people under the age of 30 who are yearning for opportunity, yearning for their opportunity to touch what they see and know everybody in the world has today because we’re such an interconnected world, when I see the possibility of radical religious extremism grabbing them instead of the opportunity to have an education, the opportunity to get a good job – we’d better understand that threat to us. That’s real. And we will deal with it, one way or the other, either now and get ahead of it, or later when it’s a bigger problem.

For me, it’s no coincidence that the places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges are also the places where the governments deny basic human rights and opportunities for their people, and where there is very little public discourse and accountability with any kind of free press or media or a capacity for people to speak out. So that’s why supporting human rights and stronger civil societies and development assistance, investing in our partnerships with allies – these are the surest ways to prevent the kind of horrible human tragedies that we are in the business of addressing in today’s very complicated world.

I also think we have to remember that foreign policy in 2014 is not all foreign. The fact is that we are, in the State Department, increasingly focused on economics, focused on building our strength here at home, on advancing American businesses, on creating job opportunities. Every time I speak to the Department of State, I talk about foreign policy as economic policy. And every Foreign Service officer today and every Civil Service officer now must also become an economic officer, and we have changed the training at the Foreign Service Institute in order to take all of our initial recruits and begin to structure ourselves differently than in the past.

Some people say there – some people express a skepticism about this. Well, let me just tell you: Our Embassy in Zambia recently helped create jobs in New Jersey. The patient advocacy of our diplomats helped an American construction company land an $85 million contract. They’re building 144 bridges, and they have the potential to do far more. There may be a follow-on, multi-hundred-million-dollar contract. Our consular staff in Kolkata – they helped bring Caterpillar together with a company in India to develop a $500 million power plant. When 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of our market, and when foreign governments are out there extremely aggressively chasing RFPs, requests for proposals, contracts, jobs, opportunities, and they’re backing their companies in a very significant way, we need to understand we’re living in a different world than we were in the Cold War when America was the single powerhouse economy of the world and everybody else was recovering from the war, World War II. Now, then you could make mistakes and still win; now, you can’t. It’s a different economic competitive – it’s a different marketplace.

We believe this budget strengthens our partnerships where so many of our economic and security interests converge, in East Asia Pacific region. And with this budget we’re bolstering our bedrock alliances with South Korea and Japan, and we’re developing deeper partnerships with Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and others, as they assume greater security roles.

And finally, as we – I would just say to everybody – as we make these investments and project our values and our power in places that we need to in order to protect our interests, there is no way that we can eliminate all risk, especially in a world where our interests are not confined to prosperous capitals. We can and will do more to mitigate risk, and I’m pleased to tell you that the budget that we have implements all of the recommendations of the Benghazi ARB report and makes additional investments above and beyond those.

So it’s fair to say we are doing best we can in a difficult budget environment where we have caps and we had a budget agreement. I firmly believe that with your help, and I thank you for it, this committee has done an extraordinary job of helping us to be able to strike a balance between the need to sustain long-term investments in American leadership and the political imperative to tighten our belts.

So thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to having a discussion on these priorities.

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