State, Foreign Operations Review of FY17 State Dept. Budget Request

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations
Washington, DC
February 24, 2016

CHAIRMAN GRAHAM: Well, Mr. Secretary, we look forward to your testimony. Assuming that you’re not chosen by Trump to be Secretary of State, this would be your last appearance, so with that in mind, proceed.

SENATOR MIKULSKI: Welcome back from another trouble spot. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m going to leave that one alone, Mr. Chairman. (Laughter.)

First of all, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member and Senator Mikulski, Chair, let me just thank all of you profoundly for the bipartisanship and the seriousness of purpose with which each and every one of you approach these issues. And I know, Mr. Chairman, you were angling, as I did, for a different seat in a different house, but I’m personally glad you’re back here, and you’re a terrific steward of this enterprise with some complications in your own party with respect to some of these issues. But I personally really respect and appreciate your leadership on a lot of this, and Senator Leahy likewise. Through the years we’ve done a lot and you’ve been a leader on so many of these things – demining and human rights, and run the list. And Senator Mikulski, you’re just a tour de force and we’re all going to miss you very, very much.

So I’m going to try and cut through this pretty quickly if I can because I know you want to ask questions, but I do want to put into perspective what we’re trying to do here.

Mr. Chairman, you mentioned that the budget is about 1 percent of the budget of the United States of America, $50 billion. I would say to everybody here that is about the minimum price that we should be paying for our leadership and for what we accomplish with this in terms of the security of our people, the advancement of our interests, the advancement of our values and ideals. And will tell you bluntly and flatly, after spending 28 full years on the Foreign Relations Committee and in the Senate, and a little more into the 29th, never have I seen our country more engaged in more places all at the same time with more issues of consequence.

And the scope of that engagement obviously is to protect our citizens and protect our interests. But we are confronted today with a combination of perils 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.

And despite the dangers, I really believe that we Americans have every reason 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 in the world – and it’s not even close. Our alliances in Europe and Asia are vigilant and strong, and the budget reflects the plussing up of our effort to strengthen Europe. Our citizens are unmatched in their generosity and commitment to humanitarian causes and to civil society.

Now, frankly, we hear – I hear it; I hear it sometimes in my travels; I certainly hear it in this country – a lot of handwringing about what’s going on. But I have to tell you, I have the greatest respect for my colleagues, my counterparts around the world, and I’ve built strong friendships and relationships with them, but I wouldn’t switch places, with all due respect, with one foreign minister in the world, and nor do I want to retreat, our country retreat, to some golden age that’s illusionary about the past.

Here and now, I believe we have just enormous opportunities staring us in the face – the energy transformation, young people thirsty for opportunity, people who really brought us some of the unrest of the Middle East and their desire to share some of the prosperity and opportunity of the world.

In the past year, we did reach an historic agreement with Iran. Some people opposed it, some people were for it, and that’s the way our country works. But the fact is that just the other day, the commanding general of the Israeli Defense Forces announced in a speech to a security conference in Israel that because of that agreement, Israel no longer faces an existential threat from Iran in the way that it did.

In Paris in December, we joined governments from more than 190 nations in approving a comprehensive agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit the most harmful consequences of climate change. And now we are determined to implement that. We also believe, and the evidence is there in economies that are transforming, that this is one of the greatest economic opportunities of all time: 4.5 billion users today, going up to 9 billion users in the next 20, 30 years, for an economy that will be at least six to larger trillions of dollars in size, and some $50 trillion is going to be spent in the next 20 or 30 years in this energy transformation. Those are jobs. That’s opportunity and that’s an enormous marketplace – bigger than the technology marketplace of the 1990s which created the greatest wealth this nation has seen since the 1920s.

Just this month, we signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will ensure a level playing field in the Pacific for American businesses and workers, and it will reassert our leadership in a region that is vital to our interests. And obviously, we are asking Congress to approve this pact so we can begin to accrue its benefits as quickly as possible.

In Europe, we are increasing support for our security initiative, the reassurance initiative. We’re increasing it fourfold and we’re giving Russia a clear choice between continued sanctions and meeting its obligations to a sovereign and democratic Ukraine.

In our hemisphere, we’re helping Colombia to try to end the war – the longest-running civil war on the planet – and we’re aiding our partners in Central America to implement new procedures to prevent the flow of migrants, and particularly young children, across the border. And we’re seeking supplemental funds to minimize the danger to public health from the Zika virus.

In Asia, we are standing with our allies in opposition to the threats posed by a belligerent DPRK. We’re helping Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to counter violent extremism. We’re deepening our strategic dialogue with India. We’re supporting democratic gains in Sri Lanka and Burma. And we’re encouraging the peaceful resolution of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea.

And we’re doing things in Africa, obviously, with AMISOM, with efforts in Nigeria to fight back against Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and others, and we can talk about that in the course of this morning.

We obviously have an enormous challenge with violent extremism that is growing among young people who make up the majority of almost every country where there are problems today. Look at every country – Northern Africa, Middle East, South-Central Asia, Asia: 65 and 70 percent under the age of 35 or under the age even of 30; 50 percent of the population is under the age of 18, 21. And they don’t have jobs. They don’t have the promise of a future. So if their minds are not going to be twisted by people who are willing to go out and lie about a religion, and if we’re not going to find them in one extremist movement or another somewhere in the world or in one failing state or another because of corruption or other problems, we need to understand the security value for our country of investing through this kind of process.

My final comment, because I want to leave time for questions, is just quickly: The United States and Russia chair this effort to try to achieve a cessation of hostilities, and President Obama and President Putin agree the cessation of hostilities should begin on Saturday morning, including all the groups who are willing to cooperate, with the exception of Daesh and al-Nusrah and any other terrorist group designated by the UN Security Council.

Now, I have to tell you, my friends, I can’t sit here and tell you I know this is going to work, but I know this: If it doesn’t work, the potential is there that Syria will be utterly destroyed, that Europe will be flooded with even more migrants, and the nature and character and culture of that entity will be challenged beyond belief; that the unrest and dislocation will become an even worse of what is already the greatest humanitarian challenge since World War II. So we have our work cut out for us, and the fact is that we need to make certain that we are exploring and exhausting every option of diplomatic resolution, of peaceful resolution at the table.

Ultimately, people are going to have to come to the table to resolve whatever the aftermath is going to be. We’re trying to prevent that from being disastrous. And I hope that in the days ahead we can make this cessation work, get to the table, where we will test – I repeat, test – not provide certainty, but test the seriousness of Russia and Iran and others to find a political solution which provides Syria with a road ahead without an Assad, because you can’t end the war with him, that is going to provide a choice for the Syrian people.

So we seek your support to stay at the forefront of the international challenges, humanitarian response, the worldwide refugee challenge, global health, PEPFAR, the President’s Malaria Initiative, other things, most importantly, on behalf of democracy, freedom of the press, human rights and the rule of law. We are launching a new initiative to try to protect adolescent girls, to adequately fund the people and the platforms that help America to effectively protect our interests.

As you have remarked, this is the last budget of the Obama Administration, and I ask for its full consideration. I welcome your questions, I appreciate your counsel, and I seek your backing. But above all, let me just say to all of you how profoundly privileged I feel to have had the chance to work with all of you on support of an agenda that reflects not only the most fundamental values of our country, but I believe, in the end, the hopes of the world. And that’s the leadership privilege that we have, and we need to exercise it.

Mr. Chairman.