Advancing U.S. Interests in a Troubled World: The FY 2016 Foreign Affairs Budget

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Washington, DC
February 25, 2015

Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Engel, Ranking Member, all the members of this committee. To respect your time, I will try to summarize my comments. Mr. Chairman, I hope I can do it in five minutes. There’s a lot to talk about. And your questions will, needless to say, elicit an enormous amount of dialogue, which I really welcome. I can’t think of a moment where more is happening, more challenges exist, there’s more transformation taking place, some of it with great turmoil, a lot of it with enormous opportunity that doesn’t get daily discussion, but all of it with big choices for you, for us – you representing the American people, all of us in positions of major responsibility at this important time.

We rose to the occasion, obviously, and we’d like to extol it. We all talk about it. I did, certainly, as a senator. I do as Secretary of State. And that is the extraordinary contribution of the Greatest Generation and what they did to help us, and our leaders did, Republican and Democrat alike, who put us on a course to win the battle against tyranny and dictatorship and to win the battle for democracy and human rights and freedom for a lot of people. And no country on the face of this planet has expended as much blood, put as many people on the line, lost as much of our human treasure to offer other people an opportunity to embrace their future, not tell them what it has to be. It’s really a remarkable story.

And now we find ourselves at a moment where we have to make some similar kinds of choices, frankly. I don’t want to overblow it; I’m not trying to. But this is a big moment of transformation where there are literally hundreds of millions of people emerging on this planet, young people. Count the numbers of countries where the population is 65 percent under the age of 30, 60 percent 30 and under, 50 percent under the age of 21. I mean, it’s all over the place. And if they live in a place where there’s bad governance or corruption or tyranny, in this world where everybody knows how to be in touch with everybody else all the time, you have a clash of aspirations, a clash of possibilities and opportunities.

And to some degree, that’s what we’re seeing today. That certainly was the beginning of the Arab Spring, which is now being infused with a sectarianism and confusions of religious overtones and other things that make it much more complicated than anything that has preceded this. By the way, the Cold War was simple compared to this: bipolar, pretty straightforward conversations. Yeah, we had to make big commitments, but it wasn’t half as complicated in a context of dealing country to country and with tribes, with culture, with a lot of old history, and it’s a very different set of choices. In addition, that’s complicated by the fact that many other countries today are growing in their economic power, growing in their own sense of independence, and not as willing to just take at face value what a larger G7 or G20 country tells them or what some particular alliance dictates. So that’s what we’re facing.

And I heard the Chairman say we shouldn’t compromise the day-to-day operations of the Department, but let me say to you the day-to-day operations of the Department are not confined to making an embassy secure. We need to do that, but if that’s all we do, folks, we’re in trouble. We’re not going to be able to protect ourselves adequately against these challenges that we’re faced-- that we’ll talk about today.

In the United States, we get 1 percent of the entire budget of the United States of America. Everything we do abroad within the State Department and USAID is within that 1 percent – everything. All the businesses we try to help to marry to economic opportunities in a country, all the visas, the consulate work, the diplomacy, the coordination of DHS, FBI, ATF. I mean, all the efforts that we have to engage in to work with other countries’ intelligence organizations, so forth, to help do the diplomacy around that is less than 1 percent.

I guarantee you more than 50 percent of the history of this era is going to be written out of that 1 percent and the issues we confront in that 1 percent. And I ask you to think about that as you contemplate the budgets. Because we’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul and we’ve been stripping away our ability to help a country deal with those kids who may be ripe for becoming part of ISIL. We’ve been diminishing our capacity to be able to have the kind of impact we ought to be having in this more complicated world.

Now, I’m not going to go into all of the detail because I promised I’d summarize. But I believe the United States is leading extraordinarily on the basis of that 1 percent. We have led on ISIL, putting together a coalition for the first time in history that has five Arab nations engaged in military activity in another Arab country in the region against – Sunni against Sunni. I don’t want to turn this into that sectarian, but it’s an important part of what is happening. We are – we helped to lead in the effort to transition in Iraq a government that we could work with. Part of the problem in Iraq was the sectarianism that the former prime minister had embraced, which was dividing his nation and creating a military that was incompetent, and we saw that in the context of Mosul. So we wanted to make sure that we had a government that really represented people and was going to reform and move in a different direction. And we worked at it and we got it. We have it today. Is it perfect? No. But is it moving in the right direction? You bet it is.

In Afghanistan, we rescued a flawed election, brought together the parties, were able to negotiate to get a unified unity government, which has both of the presidential candidates working together to hold Afghanistan and define its future and create a – and negotiate a BSA that defines our future going forward, and give Afghanistan a chance to make good on the sacrifices of 14 years of our troops and our contributions and so forth.

On Ebola – we led that fight. President Obama made a brave decision to send 4,000 young American troops there in order to set up the structure so we had a capacity to be able to try to deal with it. One million deaths were predicted by last Christmas at the time that we did that. And not all the answers were there for questions that were real. But the President sent those people in, we have made the difference, and now there’s a huge reduction in the cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and we’re getting – not finished, but we’re getting to a place where you’re not seeing it on the nightly news every day and people aren’t living in fear here that they’re about to be infected.

On AIDS, we’re facing the first AIDS-free generation in history because of the work that we have done.

On the Ukraine, we’ve held together Europe and the United States in unity to put in place sanctions. The ruble is down 50 percent. There’s been $151 billion of capital flight from Russia. There’s been a very significant impact on day-to-day life, on food product availability. The economy is predicted in Russia to go into recession this year. And we are poised yet to do another round, potentially, depending on what happens with Minsk in these next few days.

On Iran, we’ve taken the risk of sitting down, of trying to figure out is there a diplomatic path to solve this problem. I can’t sit here today and tell you I know the answer to that, but I can tell you it’s worth trying before you go to more extreme measures that may result in asking young Americans yet again to put themselves in harm’s way.

We are pursuing the two most significant trade agreements of recent memory, the TPP in Asia Pacific and the TTIP in Europe, both of which represent about 40 percent of GDP of the world in order to have a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. And if we can achieve that, we will be achieving a major new structure with respect to trade rules on a global basis.

In Africa, we held the African Leaders Summit, an historic summit with more than 40 African leaders coming to Washington, out of which has come a series of events that will help, we hope, to meet our obligation to help transform Africa.

And finally, on climate – there are other things incidentally, I’m just skimming the surface of some of the most important – I know not everybody here is a believer in taking steps to deal with climate. I regret that. But the science keeps coming in stronger and stronger and stronger. On the front page of today’s newspapers are stories about an Alaskan village that’ll have to be given up because of what is happening with climate change. It is – there’s evidence of it everywhere in the world. And we cut a deal with China, improbable as that was a year ago – the biggest opponent of our efforts has now stood up and joined us because they see the problem and they need to respond to it. And so they’ve agreed to a target for lowering their reliance on fossil fuel and a target for alternative and renewable energy by a certain period of time, and we’ve set targets. And that’s encouraged other countries to start to come forward and try to take part in this effort.

So I will adamantly put forward the way in which this Administration is leading. I know not everybody agrees with every choice. Are there places where we need to do more? Yes, and we’ll talk about those, I’m sure, today. But we need to work together.

And I’ll end by saying that historically, that 1 percent has produced more than its monetary value precisely because your predecessors were willing to let foreign policy debate and fight become bipartisan, let politics stop at the water’s edge, and find what is in the common interest of our country. That’s what brings me here today. That’s why I’m so privileged to serve as Secretary of State at this difficult time, because I believe America is helping to define our way through some very difficult choices. And frankly – and last thing, this is counterintuitive but it’s true: Our citizens, our world today is actually, despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally— less deaths, less violent deaths today than through the last century. And so even the concept of state war has changed in many people’s minds, and we’re seeing now more asymmetrical kinds of struggles.

So I would say to you that I see encouragement when I travel the world. I see people wanting to grow their economies. I see vast new numbers of middle-class people who are traveling. I see unbelievable embrace of new technologies. I see more democracy in places where it was non-existent or troubled – big changes in Sri Lanka and other countries. We can run the list. But I hope you will sense that it is not all doom and gloom that we are looking at. Tough issues? Yes. But enormous opportunities for transformation if we will do our job and continue to be steady and put on the table the resources necessary to take advantage of this moment of transformation.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.