U.S. foreign policy in a changing world

Remember that, in our era, economic and security issues overlap; we can’t lead on one and lag on the other

John Kerry
John Kerry
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Earlier this week, I visited Indiana University, one of the finest public universities in America, to convey an important message about the United States of America, foreign policy, and about the difference that each of us can make in shaping a better world.

Young people play a central role in advancing American interests, and creating an ever-stronger global community. So it was particularly important for me to talk to this group of young leaders – right in the heart of America – against the backdrop of a growing perception among some that the world is increasingly chaotic, even falling into disorder. I flat out disagree with that notion. That is why I underscored despite the many challenges we face, we have many reasons for confidence. And I see a world that is finding common ground and advancing global policy in four critical areas:

A trade agreement that represents 40 percent of the global economy

The first such area is within the arena of international economics and trade. Earlier this month, our negotiators finished work on one of the most significant trade agreements in history – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, also called TPP.

But why should the American people care? Because three of the United States’ major trading partners – Canada, Mexico19 out of 20 of the world’s consumers live beyond U.S. borders. In order to keep building our prosperity we have to keep opening and expanding overseas markets. That’s pretty simple math. The TPP is a plus economically, but it’s more than just another trade agreement. It is also a real breakthrough in bringing disparate nations together to raise international labor and environmental standards.

Today, 70 percent of U.S. imports cross our borders tariff-free. That’s not the case with all our trading partners. In fact, America’s exporters face a wide range of high tariffs in many TPP countries. That’s what we have to gain from this deal; it will eliminate over 18,000 foreign taxes on “Made in America” products and help our manufacturers, farmers, and small businesspeople to compete and win in fast-growing markets.

Remember that, in our era, economic and security issues overlap; we can’t lead on one and lag on the other.

John Kerry

Foreign trade should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat. Globalization is not simply a policy choice on which you can come down one side or the other. It is a force driven not only by technology, but also by the aspirations of people around the world for opportunity and a better life.

But TPP also matters for reasons far beyond trade. The Asia Pacific includes three of the globe’s four most populous countries and its three largest economies. Going forward, that region is going to have a big say in shaping international rules of the road on the Internet, financial regulation, maritime security, the environment, and many other areas of direct concern to the United States.

Remember that, in our era, economic and security issues overlap; we can’t lead on one and lag on the other.

By voting for this trade agreement, the U.S. Congress can reinforce the message that the United States is – and will remain – a leading force for prosperity and security throughout the Asia Pacific. That will be welcome news for our allies and friends, a huge boost for stability in a region vital to our future well-being, and glad tidings for American companies and workers.

A potential climate accord that will require contributions from every nation

A second major area where the world is coming together is on global climate change. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that clean air is better than dirty air. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years ever recorded have taken place in this century. And you don’t have to be a polar bear to know that virtually every major chunk of ice on Earth is starting to melt.

The scientific debate may have had legitimacy once upon a time, but it’s over. And let me tell you, there’s nothing uniquely liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, American or foreign about wanting to preserve the health of our planet. We’re all affected because we all share the same fragile home.

In just two months, representatives from around the world will gather in Paris to approve what I hope will be by far the most ambitious agreement on global climate ever reached. There are still many issues to be resolved, but the momentum is building.

Skeptics argue that even a strong agreement will likely fall short of what is needed, and they’re right. But if what we agree to in Paris is considered the least we must do, instead of the most we can do; in other words, if we treat it like a floor rather than a ceiling, we can continue on the right path while finding ways to do more. In recent months, we have made big inroads in mobilizing urban and provincial governments worldwide to set their own targets, and both the private sector and civil society are treating this challenge as one we must meet. After all, anything less would be a felony against the future.
A nuclear agreement involving Iran and six very different global powers

A third area where major countries have come together with U.S. leadership is in an historic agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Under the agreement every single one of Iran's potential pathways to a bomb will be blocked. And because of the unprecedented monitoring and verification requirements that are part of the agreement, we will know if the Iranians try to cheat and we will stop them – by re-imposing sanctions and, if necessary, by other means. As a result, Iran has every reason to live up to its obligations, just as it did throughout the negotiating process.

This agreement came together as a result of years of tough diplomacy extending over two presidencies. We began with sanctions, but sanctions were a means not an end. Only by direct negotiations with support from a broad array of partners – including Russia, China, and the leaders of Europe – were we able to convince Iran's top officials to accept the severe limits on their nuclear program that they have.

We are moving now to the implementation stage and it is essential that we maintain our vigilance, our unity of approach, and our common purpose. The Middle East remains a deeply troubled place but every problem in the region would be made much worse if Iran had or was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Iran agreement is the best way to ensure that this possibility is foreclosed now and for all time. And every nation in the region – including our key allies – is safer because of the agreement.

A counterterrorism coalition of 65 members that carries with it the hopes of good and decent people everywhere

The fourth critical area in which the United States and our partners have come together and that is the fight against international terrorist organizations. Along with climate change, this may well be the defining challenge of our generation.

Daesh is doomed to fail, but it has the ability to inflict immense suffering between now and when that failure is fully realized. That is why we must hasten its decline. And we are.

John Kerry

The opposition to international terrorists – whether groups like ISIL (or Daesh) in the Middle East, al-Shabaab in East Africa, and Boko Haram in West Africa – and repugnance at their actions has become a powerful unifying force. As it should be, because the terrorists are committing heinous crimes that include: destroying ancient cultural treasures; attacking schools and butchering teachers; beheading innocent journalists; and literally auctioning off terrified girls in a modern day slave market complete with notarized sales contracts; and using the term “marriage” to describe what is actually systematic rape.

Daesh is doomed to fail, but it has the ability to inflict immense suffering between now and when that failure is fully realized. That is why we must hasten its decline. And we are.

Over the past 14 months, the 65 member U.S.-led Global Coalition has launched thousands of air strikes forcing Daesh to change how it conducts military operations and impeded its command and control. The Coalition continues to strike Daesh targets in both Iraq and Syria, degrading its leadership and putting it under more pressure than ever before.

In Syria, we see a chance to increase pressure on Daesh from more than one direction, especially if Russia makes good on its commitment to help. But the reality is there will be no end to the refugee crisis until there is an end to the conflict. That is and has been our goal. To find a way out of this conflict we have to bring together all who oppose both despotism and terrorism. And the way to do that is through a diplomatic process that gives hope to every Syrian who wants to marginalize the extremists and put in place a government capable of uniting and leading the whole country.

These initiatives are distinct in purpose, but each requires both American leadership and the strong support of our partners. Each is a product of principle and pragmatism, embodying both what we should do and what we can do. And each will have an impact that extends far beyond the headlines of the day.

While we know we must address the immediate crises of the day, our strategy must also lay the groundwork for solutions that will strengthen the community of nations for decades to come. To succeed in that, we must mobilize the help and support of allies and friends across the globe. We must make the best use of every foreign policy tool, from multilateral institutions to the selective and necessary use of force, to uphold democratic principles and strengthen the rule of law. And we must be willing to invest in American leadership like the richly blessed nation we are.

You can read my full remarks at Indiana University here.


John Kerry is the 68th and current United States Secretary of State. He has served in the United States Senate, and was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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