Strengthening U.S. Leadership in a Turbulent World: The FY 2017 Foreign Affairs Budget

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Washington, DC
February 25, 2016

Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Ranking Member Engel, all the members of the committee, I’m privileged to be here to have a chance to present the 2017 budget and to answer your questions. And obviously I know most of them will be sort of more with respect to policy, et cetera. But I will try to be very rapid in this opening.

First, our request for resources this year – $50 billion – is equal, as Ranking Member Engel reminded everybody, to about 1 percent of the entire federal budget. One penny on the dollar is everything we do with respect to diplomatic security, development security, relationship security, all of the things we do with our embassies, AID, everything. And I would suggest very respectfully to the members of this committee it is a minimum – minimum – price for the leadership that we offer to the world, that we are currently engaged. I think, as the chairman said, I can’t remember a time where there are as many hotspots, as many difficult challenges because of the transformation taking in the world right now taking place. And as a result, we are engaged in more places simultaneously than at any time that I can remember in my public life.

The scope of that engagement is, frankly, essential to protect the interests of our country, to project our values, and to provide for the security of the United States. We’re confronted today by perils that are as old as nationalist aggression, state actions, and as new as cyber warfare, and non-state actors who are the principal protagonists in today’s conflicts, as well as dictators in too many places who run roughshod over global international norms, and also by violent extremists who combine modern media techniques with medieval thinking in order to wage war on civilization itself.

And despite the dangers, I come to you unabashedly ready to say that we Americans I think have many and profound reasons for confidence. In recent years, our economy has added more jobs than all of the rest of the industrial world combined. Our military, our armed forces are second to none, and my friends, it’s not even close. Our alliances in Europe and Asia are vigilant and strong and growing stronger with the TPP and with the rebalance. And our citizens are, frankly, unmatched with any country in the world in the generosity and their commitment to humanitarian causes, to civil society, and to freedom.

We hear a lot of verbal handwringing today, but I for one will tell you that – despite my deep respect and affection for my colleagues that I have worked with these last three years-plus – I wouldn’t switch places with one foreign minister in the world. And I certainly don’t want to see the United States retreat to some illusionary golden age, given the conflicts and the challenges that we face in the world today and the need to project our values and protect our interests and build the security of our nation.

So I, frankly, think that here and now we have enormous opportunities that we are seizing.

In the past year – with great debate here, obviously, and many people who chose to oppose it – we reached an historic multilateral accord – multilateral accord, P5+1 and the world – with Iran that has cut off that country’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and it has made the world safer because they no longer have the fissionable material or the capacity to build that bomb.

In Paris in December, we joined governments from more than 190 nations – that’s not insignificant that 190 nations agreed on specific steps, a comprehensive agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit the most harmful consequences of climate change that we are witnessing to a greater degree every single day. Witness the drought in California, the increased flooding, the increased numbers of fires, the intensity of storms, the fact that we spent about $8 billion in response to the intensity of those storms over the course of the last year alone, compared to the minimal cost that we are asking you to provide for the global Green Climate Fund.

In addition, we signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will ensure a level playing field for American businesses and workers and it will reassert United States leadership in a region that is vital to our interests.

In Northern and Eastern Europe, we are quadrupling support for our security reassurance initiative, giving Russia a very clear choice between continued sanctions and 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, though there are still hurdles in that effort – we’re working at it. We’re aiding our partners in Central America to implement reforms that will reduce the pressure for illegal migration.

In Asia, we’re standing with our allies in opposition to the threats posed by a belligerent North Korea. And we’re helping Afghanistan and Pakistan to counter violent extremism. And we are encouraging resolution of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea.

With friends in fast-growing Africa, we have embarked on specific initiatives to combat hunger, to promote health, to empower women, to fight back against such terrorist groups as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

And of course, the Administration recognizes that the threat posed by violent extremism extends far beyond any one region and will not be addressed simply by military means. So the approach we have adopted is a comprehensive and a long-term one.

Diplomatically, we are striving to end conflicts that fuel extremism, such as those in Libya and Yemen. And we also work with partners to more broadly share intelligence. And as everybody here knows, we have forged a 66-nation coalition to counter Daesh, and we will defeat Daesh. I have no question about that.

We’ve just moved with troops that we support on Shaddadi. We are making enormous progress there. We have, together with the enormous efforts of the Iraqi military, now liberated 40 percent of the territory that was held by Daesh. We’re moving on Heet; we will eventually move on Mosul. We’ve cut off the road of access to al-Raqqa and Mosul. And there are many other things happening that we can discuss in the course of the morning.

We’re assisting the government in Baghdad as it seeks to professionalize its security forces. And through the International Syria Support Group, which we formed and put together, we have helped design a plan that has resulted in the delivery of a possible cessation of hostilities to take place on Saturday. We have a team that will be working in Geneva and another team working in the next couple of days directly with the co-chairs, the Russians, in an effort to try to encourage that process to take hold.

I will say that, for the first time in years, five or six communities have received some 114 trucks of humanitarian assistance and some 80,000 people now have supplies for a month that didn’t have it a week ago, before we were able to seal that agreement. And my hope is – though I know it’s very difficult, no illusions about it – my hope is that we can work out a modality in the next few days that will see this actually take hold.

We’re calling on every eligible party to join in this effort, and we can talk more, obviously, in the course of the morning about our vision for the political settlement itself.

So I just close by saying, Mr. Chairman, as everybody knows, this is the last budget of the Obama Administration, the last one we will submit to this committee on behalf of American foreign policy and the national security of our country. There is nothing that I as Secretary or personally as a citizen take more seriously than protecting the security of our country. I ask for the fair consideration, for your counsel, your advice, your support, and backing for this budget and our initiatives.

But above all, I just want to say thank you to all of you for the extraordinary privilege of being able to work with you in support of an agenda that I believe not only reflects the best hopes and values of our country, but I am convinced when you analyze the challenges of the world today, I believe this budget also reflects the best hopes of the world. And that’s what America’s leadership is all about. So I thank you and I look forward to your questions.