Kerry makes budgetary case for diplomacy

Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 00:00

The new secretary of state, John Kerry, laid out a vision of the US playing a leading role in global affairs to create jobs and economic prosperity at home while railing against diplomatic budget cuts in the latest fiscal standoff in Congress.

In his first major policy speech as the US’s top diplomat, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee said he chose the University of Virginia – founded by the country’s first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson – as the venue because “in today’s global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy”.

The US has “lost the luxury of just looking inward” but instead must “look out, and we see a new field of competitors.

“Our lives as Americans are more intertwined than ever before with the lives of people in parts of the world that we may have never visited,” he said.

“In the global challenges of diplomacy, development, economic security, environmental security, you will feel our success or failure just as strongly as those people in those other countries that you’ll never meet.”

The domestic venue for Kerry’s first key address as Secretary of State was apt; he spent most of the 50-minute speech calling for spending on the State Department and US diplomatic work overseas, which amounts to 1 per cent of the government budget, to be spared in the latest budgetary crisis on Capitol Hill.

Low cost of diplomacy

Framing the low cost of diplomacy against the high cost of war, the former Massachusetts senator railed against the automatic government spending cuts known as “the sequester” due to kick in next month.

The biggest challenge to foreign policy was “in the hands, not of diplomats, but of policymakers in Congress,” said Mr Kerry, who starts his first foreign trip as secretary on Sunday with a 10-day trip to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. “In these days of a looming budget sequester that everyone actually wants to avoid, or most, we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home,” he said. “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.”

‘Recovering politician’

He blamed politicians for creating a perception among the public that the US government spent as much as 25 per cent of its annual budget on foreign aid and diplomacy.

“As a recovering politician, I can tell you that nothing gets a crowd clapping faster in a lot of places than saying, ‘I’m going to Washington to get them to stop spending all that money over there’,” he said.

Mr Kerry, who succeeded Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, said that State Department spending to help countries fight extremism takes the fight to terrorists and avoids the US engaging directly in conflicts. “Deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow,” he said.

The State Department’s $60 million annual stabilisation budget was roughly the same as the film The Avengers made on a Sunday last May, Mr Kerry said to laughter.