Remarks at the Overseas Security Advisory Council’s 28th Annual Briefing



John Kerry
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
November 20, 2013



Greg, thank you very much. Wow. Can’t we find seats for you folks? I feel badly. (Laughter.) But thank you for being here in such numbers.I’m very, very pleased to be able to share a few thoughts with all of you, and I’m particularly glad to be here to emphasize this enormous agenda that we have and that we share together, which Greg Starr heads up for us here at the Department. He’s, as I know you know, a very experienced traveler along the road of trying to provide security for American citizens and for our embassies and facilities around the world and for all of you, having served from Kinshasa to Dakar and Tunis to Tel Aviv. This is a man who understands the threats. I meet with him regularly every week. We are beginning our meetings thinking about and working on and analyzing the latest threats and the challenges that we face in a very complicated, volatile world today.

And we saw that just yesterday with the tragic bombing in Beirut against the Iranian Embassy. We may have our significant differences with Iran and be working hard to try to resolve them, but nothing excuses bombings of anybody, any person, anywhere. This violent taking of life has to end, and we all have a huge obligation to work together to try to find a way to deal with it. Greg works at that every single day. We’re constantly reviewing, whether it’s Libya or Yemen or some part of the world – we’re working hard at it. And we’re very happy that he’s back at Foggy Bottom where he graduated from GW many years ago – I won’t say how many.

In a way, you can say that Greg has come a long way but not gone very far. (Laughter.) You work that out, okay? I don’t know if anybody recognizes you when you walk around the campus these days, Greg, but – he’s nodding his head, yes.

I’ll share with you a quick story. I am now no longer in elected politics, obviously, and – but I’ll tell you, when I was, you’ll understand why I’m thrilled with the job I have now. I was walking through an airport not too many months before I was asked to take on this job. And as I’m walking through the airport, you kind of have – you learn how to walk straight ahead and not get sidetracked by somebody who wants to grab you, and some – and this guy made himself very evident. He said, “Hey, hey! Hey you! You! You! Anybody ever tell you you like that Kerry guy we sent down to Washington?” (Laughter.) So I just – I said, “Yeah, they tell me that all the time.” (Laughter.) He says, “Kinda makes you mad, don’t it?” (Laughter.) So I’m glad to be where I am. It makes a difference.

The world, obviously, is getting smaller, and globalization is a force that, no matter how you react to it, nobody’s ever going to put it back in the bottle. I can remember when we rewrote the telecommunications law back in 1995, ’96. We were mostly focused, tragically, on telephony. And that’s what mostly had sort of risen to the surface in our efforts to try to manage this new world we live in. Within six months of passing the bill, it was obsolete. Why? Because, of course, it didn’t deal with data. It didn’t deal with what was suddenly emerging only in 1995 – think about it – and that’s the internet, which wasn’t designed for what it is. It was a military U.S. Government-sponsored initiative to deal with communications in the event of nuclear war. And then the commercial purposes evolved and came forward, and all of the sudden we have this totally connected, super-connected world in which more information is coming at people than many people are able to process. And with the advent of FaceTime and Facebook and tweeting and so forth, there is just never any absence of information. It also has created a new level of kind of citizen accountability and engagement.

I recently learned about a fellow who showed up in the newspapers with a photograph of him that showed him – it was a privately taken telephone photograph – that showed him with a pale area around where he had been wearing a watch, and he was a public official. And so people thought, that’s sort of odd, why is there no watch and there’s obviously a pale area there and he was wearing one. So they went back and found other pictures of him which showed him with a different watch almost every single day, and a very expensive watch, way beyond his capacity to have that watch in the position that he held and the salary that he had. And lo and behold, he was outed; he was caught and trapped for corruption, and thrown out of office as a consequence.

So there’s a new policeman on the block. There’s a new awareness of events and what’s happening. You go anywhere in the world and something happens and you’ll see it on YouTube and you can check it out at any point in time. You don’t even have to watch that night’s news to get it.

So this is the world that we are operating in, and there’s a lot of benefit from them. But there’s also risk from it, because there is a clash in certain parts of the world between culture, tradition, history, current mores, and the future, modernity. And as everybody in this room knows, some places are having a harder time managing that transition than others. That’s what we see in some of this emotion, particularly around religious extremism, which we see expressed in many of these suicide – individual suicide operations and other kinds of confrontations that take place.

The world is not going to stop for that, nor should it. But it remains a challenge for all of us going forward as to how we are going to be able to do business, go to school, travel, and engage in our normal lives as we go through this transition. And I’m confident, over time, we will. I believe that.

So this gathering – OSAC and what you represent – are a group of people who really understand these challenges and the opportunities that come at us from this interconnected world. I think there are 10,000 representatives from more than 4,600 American companies, educational institutions, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, who are all part of this gathering. And it’s an important gathering, and that’s why I’m currently meeting upstairs with the Australians. We have the Defense Minister, the Foreign Minister of Australia here.

But I wanted to interrupt my participation in that to come and share a few thoughts with you, because the role you play in fostering two-way communication between the private and the public sector in order to promote security and create understanding between people about what it is we’re seeking to do and why people benefit from what we’re seeking to do is critical. And it’s even more important today than it was when Secretary George Shultz had the vision to found this organization nearly three decades ago.

And Secretary Shultz said the following. He said: “Risk is not something that you take or not take. It is something you analyze to mitigate properly and understand.” And I think he understood the risks that we face in the world, and they couldn’t be any more real for him way back then when he had to console the families of American diplomats who died alongside U.S. Marines in Beirut 30 years ago. Khobar Towers – we all remember it too well. These risks aren’t new. They’ve just grown to some degree in their intensity, and there are absolutely understandable reasons for that.

So make no mistake: The greatest danger to America, whether to our people or to our interests, doesn’t come from a rising rival. It comes from the risks that would arise in a world where American leadership ceases to be a driving force in order to be able to help people to be able to respond to this transition. It comes from the vacuum that the absence of leadership would create for autocrats and extremists to exploit.

All of us know that these risks are – they’re real and they’re unpredictable. Participating in OSAC, you all know them well, and that’s why you’re prepared against them. Just in the past year, there were 78 specific cases where the Department of State informed an American company or a faith-based group, or a nonprofit overseas of a specific, credible threat. And there are countless other times when larger information shared within OSAC, whether on the web portal or through the breakout sessions that you participate in today, has led to greater preparedness and awareness of the environment around you, the environment that you’re operating in. So some of OSAC’s greatest work comes from the threats that we actually never see and that never have a chance to be able to materialize because the information that is shared allows our people to be more prepared, and sometimes even to thwart the threat altogether.

So everyone here understands the risks; you know the dangers, and that’s why you’re here. But you also know – and this is what’s really important – you know that we need to be out there. You can’t retreat. There is no fortress. And nothing would work if we did, frankly, because now, more than ever, I believe we need to be engaged in the world to help move it forward in this transformation that has taken place. While there are instances, obviously, of this terrible violence – the blowing up of an embassy, the Westgate mall that took place recently in Kenya, and you could run a list of these things – a subway in London, a subway in Tokyo – I mean, these things are not new, unfortunately.

But I’ll tell you this: Believe it or not, notwithstanding the prominence of these events and the way that they do exactly what they’re meant to do, send terror down the spines of people everywhere, the fact remains we lose far less lives today to conflict and there is far less loss of life in war or violence anywhere in the world today than there was in the last century, even in the last half century. That’s a fact. We’re not seeing the kinds of wars and confrontations where millions of people are thrown at each other across the trenches or there’s firebombing of whole cities and we’re engaged in these larger kinds of conflicts. That doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous, obviously, but it means that there’s a transformation taking place. More and more countries are gaining middle class populations, more and more people are traveling, more and more tourists, more and more people going to school, more and more people engaged. Not enough yet, and that’s the great challenge that we all face.

The fact is that in many parts of the world, our challenge is not the ideology per se. It’s the fact that we have huge populations of young people, 65 percent of a nation in the Middle East under the age of 30, 50 percent under the age of 21, 40 percent under the age of 18. And you can replicate that in country after country. And if they don’t have jobs and they don’t have an education, that’s when they are prone to being seduced by one extreme ideology or another extreme religious theory, and that’s really what’s happened. It’s a governance failure. It’s an absence of sufficient recognition of the challenge. It’s an absence of opportunity. And where you have opportunity, where you have democracy, where you have education, where you have growth, where you have decision making and full participation of citizens in a society, you tend to have much greater stability and much greater chance of beating the odds against that kind of violence. And you can look at that and see it anywhere at this point in time.

So the reasons we’ve got to be out there ought to be clear. Nobody else in the world at this moment – and I don’t say this with any arrogance; I say it with pride and I say it as a matter of reality – no one else comes close to what we are able to do to keep the peace or what we do to try to manage and tampen down old animosities and keep them at bay. I think we are – the best antidote to extremism, as I said, is opportunity.

That Tunis fruit vendor who self-immolated and started a revolution in Tunisia – there was no religion, nothing, no extremism and ideology behind it. And he got slapped around by a police officer, he was tired of corruption, and he wanted an opportunity to lead his life by being able to sell his wares. And those kids in Tahrir Square, they were not motivated by any religion or ideology. They were motivated by what they saw through this interconnected world, and they wanted a piece of the opportunity and a chance to get an education and have a job and have a future, and not have a corrupt government that deprived them of all of that and more. And they tweeted their ways and Facetimed their ways and talked to each other, and that’s what drove that revolution. And then it got stolen by the one single-most organized entity in the state, which was the Brotherhood.

Same thing in Syria. Syria didn’t start Sunni-Shia or anything else. It started with young people who wanted reform. And regrettably, Assad responded to their request for reform with bullets and bombs and violence. And that’s led to where we are today to an increasingly sectarian struggle.

So I say to you, it is vital. The antidote to extremism is opportunity, and nobody does more to promote education or entrepreneurship or public health around the world than the United States of America, proudly. We also need to be out there because the example of our universities and of our culture of innovation is more than just soft power. We know that the world is more secure and more prosperous when we bring students, professors, researchers from abroad, and when we bring that strength to the world. And we also need to be out there because for every billion dollars in goods and services that we export, we create 5,000 jobs here at home.

We also need to help countries stand on their own two feet. No country has done as much of that as we have. We create trading partners for your businesses. Eleven of 15 of our biggest trading partners used to be recipients of American foreign aid. Today, they’re donor countries. Look at South Korea – used to be 10, 15 years ago it was receiving aid from the United States. Now it’s giving aid to other countries. Japan – you can go through a long list.

So now more than ever before, economic policy, I believe, is foreign policy and foreign policy is economic policy. And we need to make sure that as we see the barriers coming down, we also do what we can to strengthen security. Security is not limited to a battlefield in today’s world.

So if you look at the attacks of the last century – the Naval base at Pearl Harbor, a Marine barracks, an embassy in Beirut, and our embassies in East Africa. At the beginning of the new century, terrorists attacked the USS Cole, they attacked the Pentagon, but they also attacked two office buildings in the heart of America’s financial capital. They attacked public transportation in London and Madrid. And just this fall, they attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi.

So when they don’t see a difference between military, diplomatic or economic assets around the world – if they don’t see it, neither can we. And that’s what this is all about. As we work together to protect America’s interests around the world, the importance of communicating across boundaries is more important than it ever was before.

And here at The State Department, we have people in some of the most far flung corners of the world. Some of your companies and organizations also have people in some of the most remote places on the planet, working in all kinds of fields – building schools, building roads, supplying water, often in places that we can’t reach. And if we don’t share information and communicate with each other, then none of us will have a complete picture of the risks that we face and that we take.

So the work of your organizations and the dedicated professionals here at the State Department is really essential in order to help us create shared prosperity. And we also have a shared responsibility to share that information and to communicate with one another.

So I – whatever else we do, the bottom line is the work of highly trained and highly dedicated professionals, working in both the public and private sector, is essential to our success and to our safety going forward. And their work will do as much to shape American prosperity as anything else out there, folks. Because if people feel they can’t be safe, then we are deterred from being able to help these countries, whether it’s in the pursuit of energy resources or helping people with respect to education and getting the information resources they need to buy into this different future.

Really, in many ways the men and women who are on the front lines of this security initiative are pioneers of this new global economy and the new global diplomacy. And we have to be able to meet that obligation. And Greg is dedicated to it. I’m dedicated to it. We’ll do everything in our power to help you so that we can continue to transform this world that we live in.

And I know that every one of you believe that this genie of globalization, which I’ve heard many of my former colleagues in politics rail against – pretty easy applause lines – I remember the fights we had over NAFTA and over the free trade agreements and all the rest of it. But in every case, our GDP has grown, our opportunities have grown, our job base has grown, our tax base has grown, America has gotten stronger. And we continue to be the envy of the world, believe me, in the capacity of our economy, which now, thanks to our innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, will make the United States of America energy independent by about the year 2025 or so, a remarkable turn which will have a profound impact on our ability to have an impact elsewhere in the world.

So you can’t put the genie of globalization back in the bottle. No demagogue, no politician, no opponent of this transformation can possibly do that. And all you have to do is look at what’s happened in a place like Abu Dhabi or Dubai or any other number of places around the world to understand how rapidly some people are grabbing a hold of this thing and how inexorable it really is.

So as the aspirations that we have really given birth to in so many places – and we can take pride in that – as those aspirations go global, with our work together and with good conferences like this and the good ideas that come forth at them, I am absolutely confident that we are going to be able to make the most of these opportunities, and in doing so we are going to ensure greater prosperity for our country, greater safety for our citizens, and frankly, a greater opportunity to share in both for the rest of the world. And that is what it takes to meet our obligations as citizens as well as individuals who care about our families and our children and our grandchildren and their future. That’s what we’re building here, and every single one of you are frontline ambassadors in that effort. So thank you very, very much. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/1445

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