This commentary by Secretary of State John Kerry originally appeared in The Hill on April 28. There are no republication restrictions.
State Department lays out its strategy
By Secretary of State John Kerry
On my first day as Secretary of State, I showed my new colleagues my first diplomatic passport. It was issued when I was 11 years old and my father, Richard Kerry, was a Foreign Service Officer in post-war Europe.
I learned the value of diplomacy from my father when he took me to the beaches and graveyards of Normandy and to the foot of the Berlin Wall. I learned why America forged and defended a global, rules-based system, and I learned the power of our commitment to freedom and human dignity.
Every day since I arrived at State in February 2013, I have been inspired by working with public servants who are dedicated to doing everything within their power to promote the values of our country and protect the interests of our people.
They negotiated the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, laid the groundwork for our historic agreement with China to reduce carbon emissions, forged a global coalition to confront ISIL and helped bring a unity government to Afghanistan. They responded to natural disasters in Haiti, the Philippines, and now Nepal. They risked their lives to help contain the Ebola virus in West Africa. They work daily with local governments and civil society to fight poverty, discrimination and corruption. They ensure enduring American leadership in a dynamic world.
Those of us who are honored to lead in government owe each of our colleagues our best efforts to ensure they continue to be effective, innovative and strategic. This was on my mind last April when we launched the department’s second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which I directed to identify the most important ways each of us could do our jobs better.
The result, which is being released today, is a strategic blueprint for the State Department and USAID that emphasizes four policy imperatives: Preventing conflict and violent extremism; promoting resilient democratic societies; advancing inclusive economic growth; and fighting climate change.
In a world of information saturation, State and USAID must improve our knowledge management, data and analytics to achieve these goals. Yet even as we adapt to the new era, we must protect the value of traditional diplomacy, particularly direct engagement and relationship building. We need to be more agile in a world of complex risk and diffuse power that requires us to move beyond traditional corridors diplomacy to engage people.
For example, the plans outlined in the QDDR for a broad engagement on fighting climate change reflect a model for “next generation” diplomacy. Our ambassadors will be directed to develop meaningful commitments and creative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in consultation with host governments and institutions. Here at home, we will collaborate with Congress, mayors, CEOs, faith leaders and civil society to address this existential issue. The State Department and America will set an example for the world to follow toward a healthier, safer planet.
The QDDR also commits State and USAID to strengthening our leadership and expertise in economic diplomacy. Our goal is to foster the sustained prosperity worldwide that will create new jobs, grow the middle class, reduce income disparities, promote gender equality, and give young people a real stake in building their societies up, not tearing them down. Every State Department officer should think like an economics officer and recognize that inclusive growth abroad is central to our security, values and economy here at home.
Many of my colleagues at State and USAID work in places where threats from violence and disease are part of everyday life. We are not naïve about the risks. Lest anyone forget, a wall inside the entrance to the State Department bears the names of those who have given their lives in service to their country. Too many of those names are freshly carved, marking the sacrifices of diplomats in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Sudan and Libya.
The response must not be to withdraw. Instead, we are learning to identify and adapt to complex risk environments. We are developing the means to better track obstacles and threats, and we are responding with options that increase our agility and impact.
Believe me, the world needs American leadership more than ever, and I’m proud to say that we are more engaged than ever. We are mission driven institutions, and that is what makes those who serve patriots and public servants.
Diplomacy today is as daunting as it was for my father’s generation. And it is every bit as important to our security and prosperity as it was in the post-war period. I’m confident that the QDDR and other reforms reflect our very best effort to confront these new opportunities with the tools that will allow our colleagues to make the world a more prosperous, just and humane place for all of us – and to stay safe along the way.