President Obama took a major step forward in shaping his new national security team today, nominating Senator John Kerry to become the next U.S. secretary of state. While it’s always risky to make assumptions about the prerogatives of senators, Kerry seems set to sail through the confirmation process, partly because he chaired the committee that will review his nomination and partly because, after so many years of yeoman’s service in the Senate, he is a popular figure on both sides of the aisle.
While it is still too early to say what Kerry’s priorities will be as he takes up leadership at the Department of State, they will inevitably be shaped by the president’s preferences, which at the moment are nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the “pivot” toward Asia. However, Senator Kerry has an abiding interest in the greater Middle East, from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Egypt and the Palestinian issue. Because the world is in turmoil, many other big issues will force their way onto his agenda. Iran’s nuclear program is an immediate challenge to the non-proliferation regime and the stability of an already volatile Middle East. The rise of China and India present strategic challenges and opportunities.
Senator Kerry brings a deep and broad understanding of international affairs based on decades of immersion in the issues, combined with longstanding and close relationships with a range of world leaders from Mohammed Karzai to Mohamed Morsi, from Benjamin Netanyahu to Francoise Hollande.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Kerry are quite similar in the depth and breadth of relationships with world leaders they had at the outset of their move into the Seventh Floor at Foggy Bottom. Clinton was focused on rehabilitating America’s role, influence and presence in the world, while Kerry will likely be focused on taking advantage of Secretary Clinton’s success to negotiate new agreements that will help shape the emerging new global order.
John Kerry has been training and preparing for this job for decades. He’s earned it. He deserves it. And I’m confident he’ll be very good at it.
Brookings Senior Fellow and former U.S. State Department Special Envoy on Climate Todd Stern spoke at the US Climate Action Center, at the COP 24 UN climate negotiations, on the future of the Paris Agreement in Katowice, Poland on December 10, 2018.