SECRETARY KERRY’S REMARKS
AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
FEBRUARY 20, 2013
Good morning! Thank you for that warm welcome, Charlottesville.
Senator Tim Kaine – thank you. Tim has only been on the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee for a few weeks, but I can already commend him on his
sterling voting record. He’s found himself good job security, too – trading in a
single four-year term for a six-year term. I went the opposite direction, so maybe I
could learn a thing or two from Tim.
We didn’t overlap long, but we know each other well from his time as Lieutenant
Governor and Governor of this state. I was a Lieutenant Governor of my state, so
we have that in common.
I have huge admiration for the path Tim’s traveled. I know his sense of what
America means to the world was forged in his days as a Catholic missionary in
Honduras, just helping people live healthier lives.
About two weeks after Tim’s election last year, he called me and asked if he could
serve on the Foreign Relations Committee. In the Senate, you don’t always get
calls like that – people who step forward and volunteer in that way. So Virginia, I
know you have in Tim Kaine a Senator who is going to make a mark on that
committee and for your commonwealth and our country.
I also want to thank Congressman Hurt for welcoming me to your district, and
President Sullivan for welcoming me to your university.
I just feasted upon the view as I walked across the Lawn with President Sullivan,
and I have to say: you’re very lucky to go to school here.
It’s an honor to join you here on Grounds, this beautiful monument to the potential
of the human mind – to stand beneath the gaze of the sages of Athens, the thinkers
whose genius gave us the idea of democracy, which we still continue to perfect in
our own nation and around the world.
Some might ask why I’m standing here – why I’m starting here – a Secretary of
State making his first speech in the United States. They might ask, “Doesn’t
diplomacy happen over there, overseas, far beyond the boundaries of our own
So why is it that I’m at the foot of the Blue Ridge instead of on the shores of the
Black Sea? Why am I in Old Cabell Hall and not Kabul, Afghanistan?
The reason is very simple: I came here to underscore that in today’s global world,
there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. More than ever before,
the decisions we make from the safety of our shores don’t just ripple outward –
they also create a current right here in America. How we conduct our foreign
policy matters to our everyday lives – not just in terms of the threats we face, but
in the products we buy, the goods we sell, the jobs we create, and the opportunity
we provide for economic growth and vitality. It’s not just about whether we’ll be
compelled to send our troops into another battle, but whether we’ll be able to send
our graduates into a thriving workforce. That’s why I’m here.
I’m here because our lives as Americans are more intertwined than ever before
with the lives of people in parts of the world we’ve never visited. In the global
challenges of diplomacy, development, economic security, and environmental
security, you will feel our success or failure just as strongly as those you’ll
probably never meet. For all we’ve gained in the 21st century, we’ve lost the
luxury of just looking inward.
Instead, we look out and see a new field of competitors. It gives us much reason to
hope – but also gives us many more rivals determined to create jobs and
opportunities for their own peoples.
I know some of you and many across the country wish globalization would just go
away, or you wistfully remember easier times. But no politician, no matter how
powerful, can put this genie back in the bottle. So our challenge is to tame the
worst impulses of globalization even as we harness its ability to spread information
and possibility, to offer even the most remote place on earth the same choices that
have made us strong and free.
So before I leave this weekend to listen to our allies and partners – next week
throughout Europe and the Middle East, and in the coming months across Asia,
Africa, and the Americas – I wanted to first talk with you about the challenge we
face here at home. Because our engagement with the rest of the world begins by
making some important choices, together, about our own nation’s budget.
Our sense of shared responsibility – that we care about something bigger than
ourselves – is central to the spirit of this school. As you well know, before our first
Secretary of State founded UVA, students of his day could study only law,
medicine, or religion – and that was about it. But Thomas Jefferson believed the
American people needed a public place to learn a diversity of disciplines – studies
of science and space, of flora, fauna, and philosophy. He built this university in
the image of what he called “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.”
Today, those of you who study here and teach here – along with the taxpayers,
contributors and parents who believe in your potential – are investing in Mr.
Think for a moment about what that means. Why do you spend the many days and
borrowed dollars it takes to earn an education here? Why did Jefferson want this
institution to remain public and accessible – not just to Virginians, but as a
destination from everywhere?
I know it wasn’t just about getting a degree and a job. It was about something
Jefferson believed we couldn’t be a strong country without investing in the kind of
education that empowers us to be good citizens. That’s why founding this
university is among the few accomplishments Jefferson listed on the epitaph he
wrote for himself. To him, this place was a bigger part of his legacy than serving
as Secretary of State or even as President, neither of which made the cut.
Just as Jefferson understood that we need to invest in education to produce good
citizens, today I join President Obama in asserting with urgency that our citizenry
deserves a strong foreign policy to protect its interests in the world.
A wise investment in foreign policy can yield for a nation the same return
education can yield for a student.
And no investment we make that’s as small as what we put toward foreign policy
returns such a sizeable benefit for ourselves and our fellow citizens of the world.
That’s why I wanted to have this conversation with you.
When I talk about a small investment in foreign policy, I mean it.
Not so long ago, someone polled the American people and asked how big our
international affairs budget is. Most pegged it at around 25 percent of our national
budget – and they thought it ought to be pared way back – down to 10 percent.
Let me tell you: Would that that were true! I’d take it in a heartbeat,
folks. Because 10 percent is actually 10 times greater than what we invest.
In fact, our whole foreign policy budget is just over one percent of our national
budget. Think about it: a little over one percent funds all of our civilian foreign
affairs efforts – every embassy, every consulate, every program, every
person. We’re not talking about pennies on the dollar – we’re talking about a
single penny of a single dollar.
So where do you think this idea comes from, that we spend 25 percent of our
budget? Well, it’s pretty simple. As a recovering politician, I can tell you that
nothing gets a crowd clapping faster than to say: “I’m going to Washington to get
them stop spending all that money ‘over there.’”
If you’re looking for an applause line, that’s about as guaranteed as they
come. But guess what? It does nothing to guarantee our security. It doesn’t
guarantee a stronger country. It doesn’t guarantee a sounder economy or more
stable job market. It doesn’t guarantee that the best interests of our nation are
being served. It doesn’t guarantee that another young American won’t have to go
lose his or her life because we weren’t willing to make the right investments in the
We need to say no to the politics of the lowest common denominator and simple
slogans, and start making real choices that protect the interests of our country.
Unfortunately, the State Department doesn’t have our own Grover Norquist
pushing a pledge to protect it. We don’t have millions of A.A.R.P. seniors who
send in their dues and rally to protect America’s investments overseas. The kids
whose lives we’re helping save from AIDS, the women we’re helping free from
the horrors of sex trafficking, the students who for the first time can choose to walk
into a school instead of into a short life of terrorism – their strongest lobbyists are
the rare, committed Americans who stand up for them and for the resources we
need to help them. And I hope that includes all of you.
You understand why. Every time a tough fiscal choice looms, the easiest place to
point fingers is at foreign aid. As Ronald Reagan said, foreign aid “suffers from
a lack of domestic constituency” – and that’s part of the reason everyone thinks it
costs more than it does.
We need to change that. I reject the excuse that Americans just aren’t interested in
what’s happening outside their immediate field of vision.
In fact, the real domestic constituency for what we do is actually quite large. It’s
the 314 million Americans whose lives are better every day because of it, and who,
deep down, when they have time to stop and think about it, know our investment
abroad makes them safer.
In this age, when a shrinking world clashes with calls for shrinking budgets, it’s
our job to connect the dots for the American people between what we do over there
and why it matters here at home – why the price of abandoning our global efforts
would be exorbitant – and why the vacuum we would leave by retreating within
ourselves will quickly be filled by those whose interests differ dramatically from
We have learned that lesson in the deserts of Mali, the mountains of Afghanistan,
and the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Just think: today’s first-years here at UVA were starting second grade when a
small cabal of terrorists halfway around the world shattered our sense of security,
our stability, our skylines. So I know you’ve always understood that bad things
happening over there threaten us right here.
Knowing that, the question is this: How do we, together, make clear that the
opposite is just as true – that if we do the right things, the good things, the smart
things over there, it will strengthen us here at home?
Let me tell you my answer: I believe we do this in two ways. First, it’s about
telling the story of how we stand up for American jobs and businesses. And
second, it’s about how we stand up for our American values.
I agree with President Obama that there is nothing in this current budget fight that
requires us to make bad decisions that would force us to retrench or retreat. This is
a time to continue to engage, for the sake of the safety and economic health of our
country. This is not optional. It’s a necessity.
The American people understand this. Our businesses understand this. It’s
simple: the more they sell abroad, the more they hire at home. And since 95
percent of the world’s customers live outside our country, we cannot hamstring our
own ability to compete in those markets.
Virginia understands this as well as any state in the union. International trade
supports more than a million jobs here – more than one in five, which today is the
story of America.
You have a company up near Dulles called Orbital Sciences Corporation. With the
help of the persistent advocates at our Embassy in Bangkok, it beat out French and
Russian competitors to build Thailand’s newest broadcast satellite. Virginia’s
Orbital is now teaming up with a California company called Space Exploration
Technologies that makes satellite equipment. The deal our embassy helped secure
is valued at $160 million, which goes right back into American communities from
coast to coast. That’s the difference our embassies abroad can make back here.
These success stories happen in partnership with countries all over the world
because of the resources we’ve deployed to bring business and jobs back to
America. These investments are paying for themselves. We create more than
5,000 jobs for every billion dollars of goods and services we export – so the last
thing we should do is surrender this kind of leverage.
These successes are happening in Canada, where State Department officers there
got a local automotive firm to invest tens of millions of dollars in Michigan, where
the American auto industry is making a remarkable comeback.
In Indonesia, where, thanks to Embassy Jakarta, that nation’s largest privately run
airline placed the largest order for commercial aircraft Boeing has ever been asked
to fill. Meanwhile, the Indonesian state railroad is buying its locomotives from
In South Africa, where more than 600 U.S. companies are doing business, and
where OPIC, the Export-Import Bank, and the Trade and Development Agency
just opened an office to help close more investment deals between American
companies and Africa’s booming energy and transportation sectors. It’s also a
two-way street: a major South African energy company is planning to build a
multibillion-dollar plant in Louisiana that will put more Americans to work.
It’s happening in Cameroon and Bosnia and other surprising places, too. In the
shadows of World War II, if you told someone that Japan and Germany would
today be our fourth- and fifth-largest trading partners, they’d have thought you
were crazy. Before Nixon’s bold opening with China, no one could’ve imagined
that today it would be our second-largest trading partner – but that’s exactly what’s
Eleven of our top 15 trading partners used to be beneficiaries of U.S. foreign
assistance. That’s because our goal isn’t to keep any nation dependent on us
forever. Our goal is to use assistance and development to help nations realize their
own potential, develop their own ability to govern by rule of law, and become
our economic partners.
One of America’s most incredible realities continues to be that we’re a country
without any permanent enemies. Take Vietnam. I will never forget standing next
to John McCain in the East Room of the White House, each of us on either side of
President Clinton as he announced the once unthinkable normalization of our
relations with Vietnam.
In the last decade, thanks in large part to the work of USAID, our exports to
Vietnam increased by more than 700 percent. Every one of those percentage
points contributes to jobs here in America. And in the last two decades, a thousand
Vietnamese students and scholars have studied and taught in America through the
Fulbright program – including the Foreign Minister of Vietnam, with whom I
spoke this week.
The list goes on. As the emerging middle class in India, the world’s largest
democracy, buys our products, that means jobs and income for our own middle
class. As our traditional assistance to Brazil decreases, trade there increases,
supporting additional jobs at home, many in the U.S. travel and tourism industry.
When Jefferson expanded our consular posts to promote trade, he never could have
imagined their importance today. Nor could he have predicted the number of
Americans abroad we help with their passports. Or the help we offer those who
want to grow their families through adoption, or who find themselves in legal
trouble or distress far from home. Or the role our diplomats play in screening
potential security threats. Or that we create a new American job for every 65
visitors we help come to our shores.
So we have to keep going. The exciting new trade negotiation President Obama
announced last week, between the United States and the European Union, will
create the world’s biggest bilateral deal when it comes to fruition, a Transatlantic
partnership to match the scope and ambition of our Transpacific Partnership talks.
But our work is far from over. Seven of the 10 fastest growing countries are on the
African continent – and China, understanding that, is already investing more than
we do there. Four of the five biggest oil and natural gas discoveries happened off
the coast of Mozambique last year alone. Developing economies are the epicenters
of growth, and they are open for business.
If we want a new list of assistance graduates – countries that used to take our aid
but now buy our exports – we cannot afford to pull back. And if we’re going to
seize this budget crisis as the great opportunity it can be, we can’t shy away from
telling this story to the American people, to your Members of Congress and to the
But let me emphasize: jobs and trade aren’t the whole story. Nor should they be.
The good work of the State Department and USAID is measured not only in the
value of the dollar, but also in our deepest values.
We value security and stability in other parts of the world, knowing that failed
states are among our greatest security threats, and new partners our greatest assets.
The investments we make support our efforts to counter terrorism and violent
extremism wherever it flourishes. We’ll continue to help countries provide for
their own security, use diplomacy where possible, and support those allies who
take the fight to the terrorists.
And remember: deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops
tomorrow. As Senator Lindsay Graham has said, “it’s national security insurance
that we’re buying.”
It sounds expensive. But my friends, it’s not. The State Department’s conflict
stabilization budget is around $60 million a year. That’s how much the movie
“The Avengers” took in on a single Sunday last May. The difference is, the folks
we have on the ground are actual superheroes.
We value human rights, and we need to tell the story of America’s good work
there, too. We know the most effective way to promote the universal rights of all
people, including women’s rights and religious freedom, is not from this podium,
or from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It is from the front lines – wherever
freedom and basic human dignity are denied.
The brave employees of State and USAID – and the Diplomatic Security personnel
who protect the civilians serving us overseas – work in some of the most
dangerous places on earth, fully cognizant that we share stronger partnerships with
countries that share our commitment to democratic values and human rights. They
fight corruption in Nigeria. They support the rule of law in Burma. They support
democratic transitions in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia, mindful from our own
experience that it takes a long time to get democracy right, and that it rarely
happens right away.
In the end, all of that makes us more secure.
And we do value democracy, just as you demonstrate here at UVA through the
Presidential Precinct program that’s training leaders in emerging democracies.
Thanks to a decade of intensive diplomatic efforts alongside our partners, a conflict
that took more than 2 million lives ended and South Sudan was born
free. Securing its future and peace for all its citizens will take continued
diplomatic efforts alongside partners like the African Union.
I’ve stood in South Sudan and have seen firsthand the challenges that still face the
world’s newest country and its government. These challenges threaten to reverse
hard-won progress and stability there. That is why we are working closely with
that nation to help it provide its citizens with essential services like health, water,
education, and agriculture.
We value health and nutrition and the principle of helping people gain the strength
to help themselves. Through cornerstone initiatives like Feed the Future, we help
countries not only plant and harvest better food, but also help them break the cycle
of poverty, poor nutrition and hunger.
We seek to reduce maternal mortality; eradicate polio; and protect people from
malaria, tuberculosis, and pandemic influenza. And through the Global Health
Initiative and programs I was proud to have a hand in creating, like PEPFAR, we
have saved the lives of five million people. Today we reach for an AIDS-free
generation because we know these diseases don’t discriminate by nationality. And
we believe that relieving preventable suffering needs no justification.
We value gender equality, knowing that countries are more peaceful and
prosperous when women and girls are afforded full rights and equal
opportunity. In the last decade, the proportion of Afghan women enrolled in
higher education went from nearly zero to 20 percent. In 2002, there were fewer
than a million boys in Afghanistan’s schools and barely any girls. Now, with
America’s help, more than a third of the almost 8 million students going to school
in Afghanistan are girls. And more than a quarter of their representatives in
parliament are women.
We value education, promoting programs like the Fulbright exchanges managed by
the Department of State, which enable our most talented citizens to share their
devotion to diplomacy and peace, their hopes, their friendships, and the belief that
all of Earth’s sons and daughters should have the opportunity to lift themselves
up. Today these exchanges bring hundreds of thousands of students to America
from other countries, and vice versa.
In the last year alone, more than 10,000 citizens of foreign countries participated in
the State Department’s academic, youth, professional, and cultural exchange
programs in Virginia, and more than 500 Virginians studied abroad through State
Senator Fulbright, at whose hearings I testified as a young veteran returning from
Vietnam, knew the value of sharing our proudest values. “Having people who
understand your thought,” he said, “is much greater security than another
Let me be very clear: Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It is not charity. It is
an investment in a strong America and free world.
Foreign assistance lifts others up, and then reinforces their willingness to link arms
with us in common endeavors.
When we help others crack down on corruption, that makes it easier for our
companies to do business, as well as theirs.
When we join with other nations to reduce the nuclear threat, we build partnerships
that mean we don’t have to fight these battles alone. This includes working with
our partners around the world in making sure Iran never obtains a weapon that
would endanger our allies and our interests.
When we help others create the space they need to build stability in their own
communities, we’re helping brave people build a better, more democratic future –
and making sure we don’t pay more later in American blood and treasure.
The stories we need to tell – of standing up for American jobs and businesses and
standing up for our American values – intersect powerfully in the opportunity we
have to lead on the climate concerns we share with our global neighbors.
We as a nation must have the foresight and courage to make the investments
necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and
grandchildren: an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms,
devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate.
And let’s face it – we are all in this one together. No nation can stand alone. We
share nothing so completely as our planet.
When we work with others – large and small – to develop and deploy the clean
technologies that will power a new world, we’re also helping create new markets
and new opportunities for America’s second-to-none innovators and entrepreneurs
to succeed in the next great revolution.
So let’s commit ourselves to doing the smart thing and the right thing and truly
commit to tackling this challenge.
Because if we don’t rise to meet it, rising temperatures and rising sea levels will
surely lead to rising costs down the road. If we waste this opportunity, it may be
the only thing our generations are remembered for. We need to find the courage to
leave a far different legacy.
We cannot talk about the unprecedented changes happening on our planet without
talking about the unprecedented changes in its population – another great
opportunity at our fingertips.
In countries across North Africa and the Middle East, the majority of people are
younger than 30 years old. About half are under 20. They seek the same things
you do: opportunity.
And we have an interest in helping these young people develop the skills they need
to defeat the mass unemployment overwhelming their societies so they can start
contributing to their communities and rebuild their broken economies.
For the first time in human history, young people around the world act as a global
cohort. Including many of the people in this room, they are more open-minded,
and more proficient with the technology that keeps them connected in a way no
generation has ever been before. We need to help them use this remarkable
network in a positive way.
Some may say: not now. That it’s too expensive. But believe me: these
challenges will not get any easier with time. There is no pause button on the
future. We cannot choose when we would like to stop and restart our global
responsibility, or simply wait until the calendar says it’s more convenient.
No, it’s not easy. But it’s the American thing to do.
And it’s worth it.
Our relatively small investment in these programs –
programs which advance peace, security, and stability around the world;
which help American companies compete abroad;
which create jobs here at home by opening new markets to American goods;
which support American citizens abroad and help them when they need it most;
which foster stable societies and save lives by fighting disease and hunger;
which defend the universal rights of all people, and advance freedom, dignity, and
development around the world;
which bring together nations and forge partnerships to address problems that
transcend bodies of water and borders on land;
which protect our planet for our children and their children;
and which give hope to a new generation of interconnected world citizens
– our investment in these things cost us, as I mentioned, about one penny of every
dollar we invest. America, you won’t find a better deal anywhere.
I’m particularly aware that in many ways the greatest challenge to America’s
foreign policy today is in the hands not of diplomats, but of policymakers in
Congress. It’s often said that we can’t be strong at home if we’re not strong in the
world, but in these days of a looming budget sequester that everyone wants to
avoid, we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home.
My credibility as a diplomat working to help other countries create order is
strongest when America at last puts its own fiscal house in order.
Think about it: It is hard to tell the leadership of any number of countries that they
must resolve their economic issues if we don’t resolve our own.
Let’s reach a responsible agreement that prevents these senseless cuts. Let’s not
lose this opportunity to politics.
As I’ve said many times, America is not exceptional simply because we say we
are. We are exceptional because we do exceptional things – both where there are
problems as well as where there is promise, both where there is danger and where
there is democracy. I’m optimistic that we will continue to do these exceptional
things. That’s who we are. And it’s who we’ve always been.
As we ask where our next steps should fall, we’d do well to learn a lesson from our
own history. In the aftermath of World War II and its great toll, America had the
choice, like we do today, to turn inward. Instead, Secretary of State George
Marshall saw in both defeated and allied nations the threat of bankruptcy, homes
and railways destroyed, people who were starving.
He had the foresight to know there could be no political stability and no peace
without renewed economic strength. He knew we had an obligation to partner with
Europe, help it rebuild, modernize it and give it the push it needed to become the
powerful and peaceful trading partner it is today. After the war, we didn’t spike
the football – we created a more level playing field. And we’re stronger for it
When I was 12 years old I had the privilege to live in Berlin, where my father, a
Foreign Service Officer, was called to duty. One day I visited the eastern side of
Berlin – the part that hadn’t received any help from the United States and its
courageous Marshall Plan.
The difference was undeniable. There were few people on the streets, few smiles
on the faces of those who were there. I saw the difference between hope and
despair, freedom and oppression, people who were given a chance and people who
weren’t. If the recovering western half of Europe was regaining its vibrant color,
the east was still in black and white.
When I went back to West Berlin, two things happened: First, I was promptly
grounded for having ventured without permission to the other side. And second, I
started to pay special attention to the plaques on the buildings that recognized the
United States of America for lending a hand in their rebuilding. I was proud.
The Marshall Plan, the IMF, the World Bank, and other postwar organizations led
by the United States are evidence of our ability to make the right decisions at the
right time – taking risks today in the interest of tomorrow.
Now we face a familiar crossroads. We can be complacent, or we can be
competitive. As new markets bloom in every corner of the globe – and they will,
with or without us – we can be there to help plant the seeds, or we can cede that
power to others.
Given the chance to lead a second great American century, let’s look not just to the
global landscape around us today, but to the one ahead of us in the days to come –
15 and 50 years from now – and marshal the courage that defined the Marshall
Plan so that we might secure a new future of freedom.
Let’s remember that the principles of Jefferson’s time – in a nation that was just
getting used to its independence – still echo in our own time, in a world that’s still
getting used to our interdependence. America’s national interest in leading strongly
in the world endures.
So let me leave you with this thought: When tragedy and terror visit our neighbors
around the globe – whether by the hand of man or the hand of God – many nations
give of themselves to help.
But only one is expected to.
With the leadership of President Obama and the cooperation I will work hard to
secure from the Congress, we will continue to lead as the indispensable nation –
not because we seek this role, but because the world needs us to fill it. Not as a
choice, but as our charge. Not because we view it as a burden, but because we
know it to be a privilege.
That is what is special about the United States of America. That is what is special
about being an American. That exceptional quality that we share is what I will
bring with me on my travels on your behalf.
But our sense of responsibility cannot be reserved for responses to emergencies. It
must be exercised in the pursuit of preventing disaster, and of strengthening
alliances and building markets and promoting universal rights.
Over the next four years, I ask you to stand with our President and our country – to
continue to conduct ourselves with the understanding that what happens over there
matters over here – and that it matters that we get this right.