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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

EXECUTIVE SESSION -- (Senate - January 21, 2009)


Mr. KERRY. Madam President, for the sake of colleagues I reiterate, in about 15 minutes, after the majority leader has returned and had a chance to speak on this nomination, we will proceed to a vote.

It is my understanding--I was going to ask for unanimous consent--there is
a request by someone on the other side to have a rollcall vote. So there will be a rollcall vote at that time.

We are going to be making that request in a few minutes. Let me speak for the couple of minutes we have left to share a couple of quick thoughts, if I may.

This is the beginning of the 25th year that I have had the privilege of serving on the Foreign Relations Committee. I have seen the ups and downs, the waves of opportunities and lost opportunities that we have lived through in the course of that time, the heady years of the 1980s, when arms control was the centerpiece of our focus and analysis, and we were in the middle of the Cold War. The committee contributed significantly to the dialog at that time about MX missile deployments and nuclear warheads, tactical, conventional weapons, how to count. Fundamentally, that was altered through the significant daring of President Reagan to meet with President Gorbachev in Reykjavik and negotiate a pretty remarkable reduction in nuclear warheads at that time. It was against the conventional wisdom, and it is proof of the opportunities we face today, many of which run against the conventional wisdom.

I am convinced President Obama and Secretary-to-be Clinton--with the input and cooperation of the Congress and our committee--stand on the threshold of a new moment of those kinds of opportunities. If Richard Nixon had not dared to send his then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to China to meet with Mao Tse Tung and, indeed, even to cross the barrier to go to Red China, as we knew it, against the wishes of many of the people in his own party and the wing of his party which found it heresy, we would not have opened China and begun a process of that relationship. There is an opportunity at this moment for an even greater relationship with China. I don't think we have begun to forge the kind of cooperative effort that is available to us, if we will engage on a much more regular and intensive basis and look for the places of commonality and agreement of interest.

There are many, frankly. Most people who analyze and think about China come to the conclusion that there is a greater opportunity for a cooperative, respectful partnership than there ought to be any kind of fears of hegemony or other kinds of expansive desires on China's part. Most people interpret the current modernization of China's military as being a fairly normative modernization process within the scale of things and not something that should be translated by the United States or others into a new arms race. I am convinced there is a great deal more to be achieved with China, provided we are disciplined and thoughtful about the setting of priorities and that we have a clear set of priorities.

One thing is clear. In the management of our relationships with China or with Russia or some other countries, we can't do everything all at the same time. That is a bit of the way our diplomacy has been managed over these past years. For instance, even with Russia, if we are more thoughtful about the missile shield and more thoughtful about NATO expansion and if we engage in a greater dialog about the mutuality of interest in those regions, we can avoid significant misinterpretations and counterreactions that come as a consequence of not talking and not understanding the motives, intentions of another country.

Even as a child, when I was the son of a foreign service officer, I always heard people talking around me about how Americans are very good at seeing the rest of the world through their own lens but not particularly adept at looking at another country's aspirations, fears, threats, hopes through their eyes. The more we can foster a foreign service that is historically, culturally, linguistically, and otherwise immersed in the full culture of a particular country, the better we are, frankly, going to do in terms of determining our own foreign policy future and decisions. President Obama and Hillary Clinton clearly understand the imperative of changing how we have made some of those decisions.

When I became a member of the Arms Control Observer Group in the Senate, something now defunct but something we might wish to think about enhancing in the context of proliferation issues, one of the things that always struck me was the degree to which from the time we used the bomb at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the only nation that, incidentally, has ever exploded an atomic weapon against another people, from that moment forward, almost every weapon transition, with the exception of two--it was either the long-range bomber and/or the silent submarine--almost every weapon advancement in the course of the entire Cold War, we were first in the development of the new, more technologically advanced weapon, whatever it was. Almost without exception, our principal opponents at the time, the Soviet Union, came as quick as they could afterward and met that challenge. So we always ratcheted up, up until the point that we were at something like 30,000 warheads. Today we are somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000-plus warheads.

It is my firm belief that in this next year, we have an opportunity to negotiate an agreement with Russia, where we actually ratchet down to about 1,000 warheads, which would be the lowest we have had in the course of that period of time, since the beginning, and still be safe; in fact, be safer. Because if you have the kinds of controls with verification, inspection that get you to that level, then you begin to send a message to the rest of the world that you are serious about nonproliferation, and you begin to send a message that says to the world: The United States is taking the lead, and we will live by the standards we try to foist on other people. Most importantly, we make the world safer because we reduce the capacity for fissile material to fall into the wrong hands.

I will continue to press this thousand-warhead concept. My hope is it will become a centerpiece of the START talks and where we proceed. It is interesting because, even as we have these now 5,000-plus or so warheads--and that, incidentally, depends on accounting rules because we don't count the same weapons all the time--the fact is that China, according to public estimates, nothing classified but public estimates, has about 23 warheads. They may ratchet that up because of our lack of having moved from where we are and other reasons. The fact is, they have been pretty content to feel secure with 23. Most rational people, thinking about the use of warheads, understand the implications of using only a few.

One of the things I learned at nuclear, chemical and biological warfare school, when I served in the Navy, was the full implication of just one or two or three weapons. So when you think in terms of thousands and so forth, in today's world, where the principal conflict is religious extremism and terrorism associated with it, you have to put a huge question mark over the theories that continue to spend the amounts of money that we do and create the kinds of insecurity that we do as a consequence.

This is a moment of rather remarkable opportunity. I recently was in Pakistan and Afghanistan, India. India and Pakistan are still engaged in literally old-fashioned, mostly Cold War, old, bad-habit confrontation. In fact, both sides know the concept of war would be absurd, when the real threat to both of them comes internally from people who are disgruntled and disenfranchised and otherwise seduced into believing that by adopting one religious ideology or another or none, that they are somehow advantaging themselves. This is an opportunity to forge a new relationship across the world, as the President did yesterday. I thought one of the most important phrases he uttered in his speech was his outreach, his holding his hand out to the Muslim world to ask people to come together. One of the things that most struck me in these last years is the degree to which religious, fanatical, violent extremists have actually been able to isolate the United States within that world rather than us being able, together with modern Islam, to isolate them.

That is one of the things President Obama and this administration offers us, an opportunity to have a completely different kind of interfaith, global dialog that begins to empower modern Islam to take back the legitimacy of their religion. It is my hope and prayer that will be a centerpiece of this administration's foreign policy.

There is much to do. Obviously, Somalia and East Congo, the trouble of
Darfur that remains, populations in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere that grow at an astonishing rate so that perhaps 60 percent of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are under the age of 21, 50 percent under the age of 18, it is a stunning growth of young people who need a future. If that future is reduced to madrasas and to the distortion of the opportunities of life, we all pay a price. Our children in the future will pay a price. So these choices that President Obama and Secretary Clinton will face, together with the Congress, are significant.

Then, of course, there is one issue many people don't always think of as a national security/foreign policy issue. That is global climate change. I have attended almost every major conference since the Rio conference of 1992. I remember going down there with then-Senator Al Gore, and Senator Gore and I and a few others had held the first hearings on global climate change in 1988. I have watched the progression of all these years as all the warnings of 1988 have come true and more. Now our scientists are revising their latest predictions. Only a year ago, 2 years ago, they were saying we could sustain 550 parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Now they have revised that, not just down to 450, but they are beginning to talk about 350 parts per million as being the acceptable level.

The latest science, regrettably, shows that Mother Earth is giving us feedback at a rate that is coming at us faster and in a greater degree than any of those scientific reports offered. The result is that challenge grows greater, not smaller. I regret to say we are emitting greenhouse gases at a rate that is four times faster than it was in the 1990s. We are not doing the job. No other country is either entirely, but we are the worst because we, regrettably, are 25 percent of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions. Almost every country I have talked to in the last years, as we discuss how we are going to deal with this, looks back at us and says: We are waiting for your leadership.

I have communicated this to President Obama. He has indicated he intends to be serious about it. But the latest modeling shows that if you take every single current proposal of every country in the world that has a proposal--and that is not many--and you extend the curve out in the modeling to take all the input of today from the science and measure it against those current plans, we fall woefully short of what we need to do in order to meet this challenge. We will see an increase of somewhere between 600 and 900 parts per million which is insupportable with respect to life as we know it. We will see a degree of temperature increase of somewhere from 3.5 to 6 degrees centigrade. We have seen exactly what that means in terms of the migration of forests, the destruction of ocean currents, the increase of violent storms, the destruction of property, the movement of whole populations who will live with new drought, new water problems, and other issues.

So, Madam President, I think we are running out of time. I am sort of stalling here waiting for the majority leader.


Mr. KERRY. To finish that thought, the ice sheets in the Arctic are melting. We anticipate now, according to the science, we are going to have an ice-free arctic in the summer in about 10 years. The problem with that is that as more ice disappears, more water is evident, is available, and the water, unlike the ice sheet, which acts as a reflecter for the Sun's rays, acts to absorb the Sun's rays. So the more the ice melts, the warmer the ocean becomes and the faster it begins to continue the rest of the melting.

The result is, we begin to change the entire ecosystem in ways that scientists cannot predict completely, but it has a profound impact on the ecosystem. Moreover, it adds to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The Greenland ice sheet, unlike the arctic ice sheet, which floats, and, therefore, does not change the displacement--the Greenland ice sheet is on rock.

Right now, you can go up there. The Senator from California went up there last summer with a group. You can stare down a hole 100 feet deep, and you can see a torrent of a river running down off that ice into the ocean. Scientists are worried that the water layer underneath the ice actually creates a potential that a huge block of ice may slide off and fall into the ocean.

The rest of it continues to melt. The implication of the Greenland ice sheet melting is that is where you get your 16 to 23 feet of sea level rise.

Now, all I can tell you is, all of these impacts are irreversible--irreversible--so we are staring at an abyss of irreversibility. The best choice for people in positions of high responsibility like us and public people who make these choices is the whole precautionary principle. If we are told we can avoid it by doing X, Y, and Z, and the implications of not avoiding it are disaster, we have a responsibility to try to avoid it.

Now, we have to do this. It means a fundamental, profound change in our economy. That means shifting our energy grid, moving toward solar and renewables. People sort of scratch their heads and say: Well, is that kind of dreamy, goo-goo, crazy thinking? The answer is no. I had a venture capitalist in my office last week who wants to build a 600-megawatt solar powerplant in the Southwest of our country and they cannot get the financing right now.

So this economic crisis is, in fact, an economic opportunity that also has profound national security implications because to the degree we lead in our responsibilities to go to Copenhagen--where we have an international meeting next December, where we have an opportunity to fix the Kyoto treaty with a new agreement, which will have a huge impact on people all across the planet--that is one of the major challenges before the Obama administration.

I know the President is very committed to trying to move forward on this issue. But he and Secretary of State Clinton are going to have a huge challenge to persuade countries to do difficult things, to persuade Americans to change some of our habits and do difficult things.

I am told by experts that you could produce six times the electricity needs of the entire United States of America--six times--from either concentrated solar photovoltaics or solar thermal in Utah, Colorado, California, New Mexico, and Arizona, and I think that is the heart of it. Those approximately six States or so could wind up providing us with the base from which we could provide that. I am confident the technology will move forward.

So I wholeheartedly support, as I have said in the committee, and as I have said earlier in my opening comments, the nominee. I believe Senator Clinton is in a position to provide a historical shift in American foreign policy where we reach out to the world with the best of our values and the best of our thinking and the best of our hopes and intentions. I think this can be a moment where we renew America's proud role as a global leader, where we touch the hearts and minds of people all across the planet, and where we have an opportunity to say to future generations, we met our responsibility.

Having said that, the distinguished majority leader is here and I yield the floor.


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