Review of the FY 2017 State Department Budget Request

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
February 23, 2016

Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you.  Senator Cardin, all my former colleagues and friends on the committee, I’m really happy to be here.  I think we have a chance to have a very important conversation, and I appreciate both of your opening comments very, very much, both in tone and tenor.

And I want to begin just by thanking all of you.  I know it’s been very, very difficult.  I know the committee has worked incredibly hard to fill our positions at the State Department and our overseas posts.  And I also know this committee has a very special appreciation for the vital work of diplomacy.  Both of your comments just now underscore how vital it is for America to have our senior diplomats, particularly our career diplomats, who just don’t deserve to be waiting a year or two years or a year and a half to be put in position.  And I know this committee believes that, and you worked extremely hard, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for your diligence, and Senator Cardin, likewise, and all the members of the committee.

This is the way we advance the objectives of U.S. policy, whether it’s for our businesses that are trying to create jobs, or travelers – Americans abroad.  So I thank you again for really pushing obviously complicated politics.  And I ask your favorable and prompt effort on the other nominations.  There are still some hanging out there, and particularly Roberta Jacobson, who is a professional civil servant – career – has done a diligent job, doesn’t make the choices about policy, and she shouldn’t be the prisoner of those choices.  She does what she’s instructed to do and she does it very, very well. 

So, Mr. Chairman, you have my prepared statement.  I’m not going to give you a whole – all of that, but I do want to – just some initial comments and summary. 

First, you mentioned the number – 50 billion, a little bit over.  It’s equal to about 1 percent of the entire budget of the United States.  And that 1 percent, Mr. Chairman, I am just convinced more and more after these last years, even after serving on the committee, is the minimum price of the leadership role that the United States of America plays on a global basis, and particularly at a time when we are engaged diplomatically more deeply in more places simultaneously, on more significant issues simultaneously, than at any time in our history.  And the scope of that engagement, I am also convinced, is absolutely essential to protect the interests of our nation and to keep our citizens safe.  And I think it’s even growing more so with the numbers of failed and failing states, where the governance money that Senator Cardin just referred to is so critical.  We can talk about that a little bit today. 

We are confronted today by perils that are as old as nationalist aggression and as new as cyber warfare, by dictators who run roughshod over global norms, and by violent extremists who combine modern media with medieval thinking to wage war on civilization itself.  The last century was marked by state actors and states going to war with each other – World War I and II, Vietnam, Korea, so forth.  This century is defined much more by non-state actors taking actions against states and against, as I said, the broad norms of society. 

And I would emphasize today in coming here, despite the dangers, despite the turmoil, we Americans have many reasons for confidence.  In recent years, our economy has added more jobs than the rest of the industrialized world combined.  Our armed forces are second to none – it’s not even close.  Our alliances in Europe and Asia are vigilant and strong.  And our citizens are unmatched in the generosity of their commitment to humanitarian causes and civil society.  We are the largest donor in the world to the crisis of Syrian refugees – over $5.1 billion.  I see – we see, all of us – and hear a lot of handwringing nowadays.  But I, for one, with all my affection and respect for all my colleagues around the world that I work with, I wouldn’t switch places with the foreign minister of any country, and nor do I yearn to retreat to some illusionary golden age of the past.

Here and now, we have enormous opportunities and we are trying to seize them.  In the past year, we reached an historic multilateral accord with Iran that you all played a critical role in, and it has cut off that country’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, thereby making the world safer for us and our allies.  And if you doubt that, read the speech by General Eizenkot, the head of the IDF forces of Israel, who recently, at a security conference in Israel, said that now, because of this agreement, there is no longer an existential threat to Israel from Iran with respect to the nuclear threat.  That’s from their security in Israel.

In Paris, in December, we joined governments from more than 190 nations in approving a comprehensive agreement to curb greenhouse gases, and you’ve mentioned the effects that we’re seeing in the world today.  We’re trying to limit the most harmful consequences of climate change, and we’re determined to implement that accord by meeting our targets here at home and helping friends abroad to reduce carbon pollution and move their economies forward at the same time. 

Just this month, we officially signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership to ensure a level playing field for American businesses and workers, to open up job opportunity and 40 percent of the global GDP, and also to strengthen America’s leadership within the entire Pacific.  We are asking Congress to approve that pact this year, and we can accrue its benefits as quickly as possible when we do.  

In Europe, we are sharply upgrading our Security Reassurance Initiative with a fourfold increase in support and giving Russia a clear choice between continued sanctions or meeting its obligations to a sovereign and democratic Ukraine.

In our hemisphere, we are helping Colombia to end the globe’s longest running civil conflict, and we’re aiding our partners in Central America to implement reforms that will reduce the pressure for illegal migration. We are also seeking supplemental funds to minimize the danger to public health created by the Zika virus.

In Asia, we are standing with our allies in opposition to threats posed by a belligerent North Korea; we are helping Afghanistan and Pakistan to counter violent extremism; deepening our strategic dialogue with India; supporting democratic gains in Sri Lanka and Burma; and encouraging the peaceful resolution of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea – a goal that is definitely not helped by the militarization of facilities in that region.

So with friends in fast-growing Africa – and we’re very grateful for the interest of this committee, Senator Coons and others who’ve – Senator Flake, others who’ve really been very focused on it – we’ve embarked on initiatives to combat hunger, increase connectivity, empower women, train future leaders, and fight back against such terrorist groups as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

Now, of course, this Administration recognizes that the threat posed by violent extremism extends far beyond any one region and it’s not going to be addressed solely – or even primarily – by military means.  So the approach that we’ve adopted is comprehensive and it’s long-term. Diplomatically, we are striving to end conflicts that fuel extremism, such as those in Libya and Yemen.  We also work with partners more broadly to share intelligence, tighten border security, improve governance, expand access to education, promote job training and development.  And I might add the coalition we’ve put together, 66 countries strong now, is gaining traction in many sectors where it hasn’t previously worked on these kinds of things as jointly as we are now. 

As you all know, we have forged that coalition of 66 to defeat Daesh.  Just a quick word on our strategy.  We are going to combine – we are combining – our power with that of our partners to degrade Daesh’s command structure, shrink its territory, curb its financing, hammer its economic assets, discredit its lies, slow its recruitment, and block any attempt to expand its networks. Militarily, we are intensifying pressure through coalition airstrikes, more advisers, stepped-up training, improved targeting, and the systematic disruption of enemy supply lines.  And we can go into greater detail, I’m sure, in your questions. 

To consolidate territorial gains, we’re stressing the importance of stabilizing communities freed from Daesh in Syria and Iraq.  We’re helping the government in Baghdad as it seeks to broaden and professionalize its security forces and we continue to strengthen our regional partners, Lebanon and Jordan. 

And we’re supporting a broad-based diplomatic effort, which I know we’ll talk about today, on the Syria war.   Two weeks ago, we announced a plan to ensure access to humanitarian supplies for all Syrians in need.  I’m pleased to tell you that 114 trucks have gone in.  People – at least 80,000 people who haven’t had supplies in years now have supplies for the next month, at least.  And we have resulted in food and medicine reaching places that have been under siege for months.  We’ll continue to work closely with the UN to see that future requests are honored and that humanitarian supplies are available throughout the country.

The United States and Russia are co-chairing the International Syria Support Group Ceasefire Task Force.  Yesterday, President Obama and President Putin agreed that the cessation of hostilities should begin on Saturday morning, include all groups willing to participate, with the exception of Daesh and al-Nusrah, and any other terrorist groups designated by the UN Security Council. 

We are reminded each day in Syria that every attack, every casualty, every loss, every loved one that is bombed from the air by barrel bombs or otherwise, provides fresh grounds for the conflict.  As long as the killing goes on, this devastating cycle will feed on itself.   And that is why we have urged all parties to support the cessation of hostilities now and it’s why we have argued repeatedly there must be a diplomatic solution.  As difficult as it is to get there, there must be a diplomatic solution to this war. 

The only way forward that preserves a unified Syria is the path envisioned by the Syria Support Group, ratified by the UN Security Council, and endorsed by the responsible opposition, and that requires a de-escalation of the conflict, a transition to a new system of governance, a new constitution, an election, and hopefully a Syria that could be committed to peace and stability with its neighbors and within itself. 

Mr. Chairman, the success of our leadership on terrorism and other security threats is linked to whether or not America is leading the fight to protect what we care about.  And the truth is, we are in arena after arena.  In all the years I sat on this committee, I never saw us having to deal with quite as many fronts, quite as many challenges as we are today. 

So this year, we seek your support to stay at the forefront of international humanitarian response, including the worldwide refugee crisis; to strike a blow for global health through PEPFAR – and you talked about it, Senator Cardin – and the President’s malaria initiative; and to carry out important programs on behalf of democracy, freedom of the press, human rights, and the rule of law; and to launch a new strategy focused on the equitable treatment of adolescent girls; and to adequately fund the people and the platforms that enable us to serve America effectively around the world.

So my colleagues, as the Chairman said, this is the last budget the Obama Administration will submit on behalf of the foreign policy and national security of the United States.  And I ask for its fair consideration, welcome your questions, appreciate your counsel, and I seek your backing.  But above all, I want to say how privileged I feel to have had the chance to work with all of you in support of an agenda that reflects not only the most fundamental interests and values of the American people, but also carries with it – I am absolutely convinced – the hopes of the world.  Thank you.