SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Please, please, be seated. Admiral, thank you very, very much for welcoming me here to this storied academy. I am really privileged to be here, and I’m anxious to hear your questions and look forward to having a little bit of a dialogue if we can. I want to recognize Admiral Frank Pandolfe, who is class of 1980. He has served as a liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department, and he has now traveled with me – Admiral, how many hundreds of thousands of miles?
ADMIRAL PANDOLFE: Three hundred?
SECRETARY KERRY: Three hundred, four – whatever. Who’s counting, right? Thank you, though. He’s been an indispensable liaison, and in today’s world, as you all will find more and more what the military is doing, what the Defense Department’s doing, is linked to and closely affiliated what the State Department is doing or the Department of Homeland Security – the distinctions have broken down to some degree. And the most recent Defense Authorization Act actually puts more burden in some ways into defense to be diplomats and psychologists and mayors of cities and a whole bunch of other things. So it’s a broader responsibility than it ever was, and we can talk about that perhaps a little bit later.
I think that the Admiral’s presence on my staff, together with Captain Abbot — he’s somewhere here, he was here a – there he is – they have traveled near and far, and they’ve helped us to really integrate our policies in important ways. My understanding is this immediate post-holiday stretch – today’s the first day back at classes, so I hope you’re in a half-decent mood here today. (Laughter.) I understand this stretch is known as the “dark ages,” made worse by the memory of a certain painful sporting event that took place in Baltimore. Rest assured, as a former sailor, you know where my loyalties lie in who I was rooting for. But despite the outcome of that aberration, it is my understanding that Navy won eight of 10 athletic contests against Army last fall. And I know that every plebe here, with respect to football, can affirm that there are 332 days left until the start of another long winning streak, if I’m correct.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit this campus a number of times. It’s a beautiful campus, an extraordinary place. And sometimes I’ve just kind of driven around when I’ve had to be in Annapolis for one reason or another. I’ve also been here for a couple funerals – Admiral Zumwalt, who was my commanding officer, commanded all naval forces in Vietnam – and also the admiral I had the privilege of serving as an aide and flag lieutenant to is buried on the hill, along with a bunch of other admirals. And it was my privilege to be here with his family after he had passed away.
And while I served in the Navy, I served with a lot of graduates of this Academy. And believe me, I got to see firsthand the quality of officers that are produced here. And I’m proud of the service that I had an opportunity to share with them.
There is no question that this is one of the great assets of country – you are the great assets of our country, but writ large, this institution is and the brand of leadership that is taught here is absolutely defining of the heart of America and our strength in the world today. And I hope you all feel the full measure of that.
So it’s a special honor for me to be able to speak here and return, in a sense, to the roots of my public service. 1965, I was in my junior year in college, and I volunteered at the time after Lyndon Johnson called for some 500,000 additional troops to be able to go to Vietnam. And I joined the United States Naval Reserve, raising my hand just like you and swearing the oath to uphold the constitution and our country. And it was 50 years ago last fall when I reported for duty for Officer Candidate School, literally the morning after my college roommate’s wedding – so you can imagine the shape I was in. (Laughter.) And I stood at attention and had my head shaved, and found myself in a different world.
My earliest memories were probably a mixture of some of the things you all felt when you came here: A little bit of excitement or maybe a lot of excitement; a certain amount of exertion, a fair amount of fear. And I have to confess that most of the fear came from looking at myself in the mirror, because some guys shave their heads and they look like Vin Diesel or the Rock; God gave me a head that was not meant to be shaved, folks. And so I didn’t have a lot of time, though, to dwell on my appearance, as you all know, between the grind of physical activity and mental activity. And learning how to march to class was a different deal for me at that point in time. But I look back on all of it fondly, as I’m sure – I hope you do at this point, and I know you will ultimately.
Eventually, I moved on to nuclear, chemical, biological warfare school, and damage control school, and flight control school – a whole bunch of different schools before I joined my ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, and did a tour of duty chasing aircraft carriers as plane guard, and occasionally getting up on the gun line, but fairly rarely until I then went back to Vietnam commanding a 50-foot gunboat, as the Admiral mentioned in his introduction of me.
So people often ask, and I just want to share with you a few thoughts about what I took away from that experience. Some of the deeper lessons were very personal – serving as the officer of a deck, which I did in the first tour, of a 535-foot ship with missiles and a complement – amazing crew, watching over that ship in the dark of night chasing a aircraft carrier that wouldn’t necessarily tell you when it was going to turn, and none of us had lights on – is a challenge, and acting as counselor to a lot of other younger men who are part of your division is a shaping, formative experience. It teaches you leadership, not to mention obviously, ultimately, going into close combat itself. And you learn that the folks around you become a lot more than a crew or a lot more than people you have a right as an officer to tell what to do. They’re your family.
So this was about as much responsibility as a young person could ask for and that’s what you all are going to see one way or the other, and it has a value that I simply cannot overstate. As Secretary of State, as a senator, on the issues I had to vote on about war and peace, Iraq, elsewhere, those lessons are indelible and they’re invaluable, and they stay with you forever.
I know that what we learned in that period of time is something that prepares you for service to your country or even as a corporate leader, as a business leader, or any kind of leader. You learn leadership and you will practice leadership. And that is different from most of the rest of the people who go to college anywhere or who go out into the world.
Now, in a classroom, some of the slogans probably sound a little cliche. But in real-life combat situations, I’ll tell you those words have urgent and visceral meaning. And the difference between doing the necessary or not has nothing to do with where you come from, what you look like, who your parents are, where you lived.
What matters is character – a willingness to put your fellow sailors, your unit, your duty above all else, and the confidence to do your job well when every instinct may be screaming at you to take cover or do something else. That’s the difference. The ability to bring out the best in other people. The understanding in your gut that you must never, never leave a shipmate behind.
And in recent years, we have seen that character in practice through the courage of the young officers who have taken the knowledge gained at this academy in Iraq, Afghanistan, in Yemen, in other places all around the world. Some of these men and women, as you know better than anybody, never returned home. Their names have been added to the plaque in Memorial Hall of the brave souls who give the last full measure. But the service and sacrifice of every single Annapolis graduate is a stark reminder that nothing that you do here is purely academic – because you will move from commencement exercises to real-life military exercises in a very short stretch of time, and you will be asked to dig in to that deep reserve of character almost immediately after graduation. And for that, you will, I assure you, always have the thanks of a grateful nation.
A second lesson from my experience in service may be a little more surprising, but that is the criticality of America’s leadership in the world. One of the lessons I have learned, or I think I knew it but it’s been indelibly re-imprinted on me in the course of the last four years, is the degree to which our leadership is critical. People don’t sit around expecting Russia or expecting China or expecting a whole bunch of other countries to step up and deal with Ebola or to protect the South China Sea or to stand up against Russia and protect the frontline states with respect to their incursion into Ukraine, but they do expect it of the United States of America. There are high expectations of us and what I have found is – and I don’t say this with any scintilla of arrogance – but if we’re not engaged in the leadership effort with respect to many of the challenges we face in this planet today, it more often than not doesn’t happen or it takes a hell of a lot longer for it to get done.
I was – and remain – convinced that ours is often the decisive catalyst for good. And that engagement is especially vital in an era when technology has brought the whole world closer together and when we have seen the rise of dangerous non-state actors. Most of the last century’s history was defined by nation-states fighting nation-states, and millions upon millions of people died in the course of world wars and conflicts. That’s not what is currently characterizing this century. This century is defined much more by non-state actors who are acting as disruptors to the global order, in many ways, or bad governance and corruption and the disintegration of rule of law, so that it has a profound impact that pulls the United States in.
We’ve seen the resurgence now suddenly of an authoritarian populism, and I would respectfully suggest to all of you that this is something we may see more of in the next years that may produce challenges that all of you are going to have to cope with in the context of choices that get made as a result. Even excessive nationalism defining some countries in the world, the spread of sectarian tensions, the shift of power and prosperity in the direction of the Asia Pacific, nations that – after World War II, we were the only power standing. We could make bad decisions and still win. We don’t have that luxury today. We’re the most powerful country on the planet, yes, and we’re the biggest economy in the world, yes. But China will be eventually just by virtue of its size. And so you can’t walk into a room and say, “Do it our way,” and have everybody automatically say, “Oh, absolutely.” And we’re seeing that pushback in many different respects, in many different places, which requires greater skill and greater speed in the execution of our decision making and of our diplomacy.
This is an age when the globe seems to be spinning at a faster pace than anybody can remember. If you think you’re a little dizzy, trust me, a lot of people who’ve been coping with these challenges for a long time feel the intensity of that pace. So we have to be quicker; we have to be more nimble; we have to be more fluid. And we have to use every national security tool in our arsenal – including force when absolutely necessary – but also we have to use our commercial, our economic, our diplomatic influence, and keep our people safe and secure and prosperous by virtue of the greater skill that we apply to the broad array of tools in our arsenal.
Now, this has been my focus over four years as Secretary of State. I’ve tried to get people to realize that economic policy is not distinct from foreign policy; economic policy is foreign policy and foreign policy is economic policy in today’s world. And I’ve always tried to keep uppermost in my mind who will pay the price and bear the burden of defending our country if diplomacy fails. War is the failure of diplomacy. President Kennedy famously said we must never negotiate out of fear, but we must never fear to negotiate. And that has guided me significantly in the course of my career. Our successes at the negotiating table can make your jobs a lot easier and a lot less dangerous. And you can’t get there if you’re not willing to talk.
Now, an important example of all of this and the new world we’re living in, obviously, is the fight against ISIL/Daesh. Naval aviators and Marines are playing a vital role in that campaign against the extremists in Iraq and Syria. And this effort reflects an incredible partnership between diplomats and our military. We are constantly working hand-in-hand. We’re working with the Turks to figure out how much and how far they’re going to come down and what we’re going to do with the Arab forces that we’re working with and how we surround al-Raqqa, and to what degree we can arm some of the people that they don’t like and to what degree they can be used in the fight. There’s a lot of diplomacy involved in the implementation of the battle strategy, of the war plan, and it reflects that.
On the political side, we have built a 68-member coalition, with countries from every corner of the globe all coming together in pursuit of a common goal, which is to defend our citizens, our allies, and our friends from a group that has no rules, that is literally waging war on civilization itself.
This is different. Our confrontation with violent extremism is likely to prove a generational challenge to which we’re going to have to respond with every appropriate means – from conventional military operations where that’s necessary, to clandestine, covert operations, law enforcement, and other avenues of homeland defense.
And we can see the same connection between our diplomacy and security elsewhere in the Middle East – in Iran, where we have forged an historic agreement to block each and every one of that country’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. Now, I hear people criticize me and say, “Why’d you make a deal with Iran?” Well, pretty simple. Our ally, Israel, is critical. Our other allies in the region – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, others – all have deep concerns about what is happening. And the fact is that it is better to deal with the problems of an Iran that will pursue its revolutionary interests in Yemen or in Syria or elsewhere without a nuclear weapon than to pursue an Iran that does have one. A pretty simple equation, in my judgment.
And we have been able to create an Iran that only has 12 – that went from 12,000 kilograms of enriched material down to 300 kilograms. You can’t build a nuclear weapon with 300 kilograms. They’ve gone down to 3.67 percent enrichment for the next 15 years. You can’t build a nuclear weapon at 3.67 percent enrichment. That has literally destroyed the calandria of its plutonium reactor so that they no longer have access to plutonium fuel. Where we are now tracing from cradle to grave, from the mine to the waste, all enrichment and all uranium that they mine. And that will happen for the next 25 years, with television cameras present and watching.
So we believe that by bringing all of the parties to the negotiating table and addressing a major international challenge without resorting to military action, we were able to persuade Iran to eliminate 98 percent of its stockpile, shut down two-thirds of its centrifuges, and subject its nuclear facilities – most importantly – to the most rigorous inspection regime that has ever been created or negotiated. And the result is that a significant danger in a volatile region which, if not curbed, might have resulted in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other countries pursuing their own nuclear weapon, that has now been eliminated as one of the threats for that region.
Now, after graduation, many of you will likely serve tours across the Pacific. And as we gather here today, more than half our Navy fleet is stationed in that region. We have boosted our missile defense assets, we’ve increased the number of ships, and we’ve expanded the rotation of Marines in and out of Australia. We’ve also forward-deployed strike groups and hospital ships to the Western Pacific in order to collaborate with our allies on joint military, humanitarian, and disaster relief exercises.
Now here again, the link between military readiness and effective diplomacy is absolutely key. The strength of our alliances and friendships is going to make it easier for us to generate security cooperation, which you have to have in today’s world to be effective. And it will help us prevent small disputes from growing up into major crises.
The success of our diplomacy, in turn, will hinge to a considerable extent on the versatility and the credibility of American power. Now, I’ve said many times, as I said earlier today, U.S. leadership is not only needed in the world, but in most places it is also welcomed. And nowhere is that more the case than in Asia. And the Navy without any question at all – all of you – are going to pay – play a very critical part in our presence there and in defining the diplomacy of the future.
So finally, I just want to note that increasingly when you travel the world, you will confront firsthand the challenges that are presented by climate change. Some in our country, remarkably to me, still are deniers or doubters. But virtually all the credited scientists of our country and the world agree that human beings are contributing to this through choices we make about how we power our nations.
As our military leaders have repeatedly pointed out, we’re not just talking about the problems that plague the air we breathe or the water we drink. Those are pressing, but what we’re talking about in the context of security are the social, political, security consequences that will stem and are already being observed from rising record temperatures, from rising sea levels, from water shortages, from famine, droughts, fires, outbreak of disease, and conflicts over natural resources and mass migration and the destruction of vital infrastructure.
That is precisely why President Obama and I made a top priority to rally countries across the globe in support of a bold, ambitious action to combat climate change. And that includes the Paris agreement, which went into effect last year and which commits countries almost all around the world – 186 countries came together and agreed to reduce their emissions – and it includes other major steps to reduce emissions of international airlines, as well as to change the hydrofluorocarbons that we use in refrigerants. Just that alone could wind up in saving us half a degree centigrade in the warming of the Earth.
I’ll just share with you that I went down to Antarctica a month or so ago, a couple months ago. And you see that ice sheet which in some places is three miles deep, and you listen to the scientists from many countries, in the teens, who are down there doing research, and they will tell you about the fragility of the great Antarctic Ice Sheet. If that ice sheet were to melt in total over the course of the next century, two centuries, you’ll see sea level rise of a hundred to two hundred plus feet. Already, we’re going to see meters and already Norfolk, Virginia and the base there are making adjustments because of the docks and the access to the port, and so readiness is affected by what is already happening today. So I want to emphasize to you the degree to which your voices and your engagement on these issues are going to be critical.
When a natural disaster strikes in a place like the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, it’s the Navy and Marines who are often the very first representatives of the United States who are on the scene – and that makes you our most important and effective ambassadors as well.
This last point I can’t highlight enough: as officers of our sea services, you are often direct extensions of our foreign policy writ large. And from practically the moment you leave the confines of this campus, you’re going to deploy and train with forces from around the world, and you will interact directly with our diplomatic corps.
And you will be writing the next chapter in the long history of the Navy and Marine Corps and the leaders who have helped to establish and strengthen alliances in every region of the world. That dates back to the earliest days of our republic; and these folks have explored the depths of the seas and the farthest reaches of space, and they’ve charted the oceans and they’ve stood on the cutting edge of scientific discovery.
To quote Commodore Matthew Maury, an officer considered the father of modern oceanography: “Navies are not all for wars. Peace has its conquests, science its glories.” And I’ll tell you, this will be the case for you as well – to serve not only as members of the finest fighting force in history, but as key envoys across the globe.
So suffice it to say your jobs are not going to be simple. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The world is in a more complicated place right now; you wouldn’t trust me if I didn’t acknowledge that. And we all know that our country’s long list of diplomatic and security challenges never gets any shorter; every time you get to the top of one mountain, it always seems like there’s an even taller peak to scale. But as you have no doubt learned here at the Naval Academy, sometimes the only choice is just to keep moving forward and keep reaching higher.
It can be a daunting task. But you know as well as I do that none of you would be here if you weren’t up to that task, if you didn’t have within you the inherent character qualities of leadership that have long defined the men and women of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
There are so many examples throughout history of that. But I just want to tell you one that’s relevant to me. There was a young Navy lieutenant from Massachusetts who was deployed to Vietnam not long after I was, in 1969.
His name was Tom Kelley – a friend of mine. He commanded a river assault force of eight boats on a mission to extract a U.S. Army infantry company from an area that was controlled by the enemy. And during the operation, his vessels came under intensive fire from the opposite bank of the river; one of them became disabled, they were unable to lower the loading ramp or get underway.
So Kelley ordered the other boats to form a defensive line, brought his vessel to the front where the incoming fire was most intense, and suddenly, a rocket crashed beside him, penetrating the boat’s armor and spraying shrapnel into his neck. Kelley couldn’t stand, he couldn’t speak, he had suffered the permanent loss of one eye; but he was still able to transmit commands through one of his sailors, and he did so until the injured boat was repaired and moved out into safety and the convoy moved out. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
His steadiness in command reminds me of that shown by another Navy Lieutenant from Massachusetts, President Kennedy, who had a long career as a U.S. Congressman and a Senator, and then Commander-in-Chief, but through it all, he never forgot where his service began. And on an August day in 1963, just three months before his assassination, he came here to this campus and he told a group of midshipmen “Any man who may be askedwhat he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: I served in the United States Navy.” That was President Kennedy.
I couldn’t agree more – because that declaration is a sign of the courage and the character and the commitment and the patriotism of anyone who is afforded the privilege of attending this great institution. And I know looking around this hall at all of you that that tradition of service and the honor of that calling remains very much in the best of hands. So I thank you for your service and your sacrifice even now. May God bless you and your families and bless always the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)
I’d be delighted to answer a few questions. Let me introduce John Kirby. He’s actually Admiral John Kirby. And we stole him from the Pentagon and he had to hang up his uniform, but he served as spokesman over there and he’s been the spokesman for the State Department, and his whole family is Navy – his son, his daughter, everybody’s Navy. So have at it, John.
MR KIRBY: Thank you, sir. I think we’ve got time for a few questions and I think the first one is supposed to be coming from Midshipman First Class Park. Is that right?
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR KIRBY: Go for it. Here.
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know how much time we have, but if we have a few minutes extra – and I’ll try not to go too long – I’m happy to take a couple extra if anybody’s been somehow motivated to ask something more. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Sir. Good afternoon, sir. Midshipman First Class Jin Soo Park from 16th Company. My question for you is —
SECRETARY KERRY: Hold the mic up close. There you go.
QUESTION: My question for you is: As you reflect back on your military career during the Vietnam era, can you think of a leadership lesson or life lesson a mentor or leader gave you that you carried throughout your public service, political career, and your role as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think I sort of described one to you a moment ago, but I think going further than that, I’d just say to you that the greatest lesson I learned is that you have the bars, and eventually you may even have the multiple stripes and you have a lot of power, but it’s not the stripe that gives you the authority – although there’s a certain obvious automatic to that – it’s you. It’s how you behave; it’s how you lead. It’s not the saying and telling somebody to do something; it’s how you lead and respect the people who work with you. It’s family.
When we served – when I was in Vietnam on the boat, I was the lieutenant. I was the only lieutenant on the boat and we had radar men and boatswain’s mate and so on and so forth – gunner’s mates, et cetera – but we never kind of got too formal about it all. Everybody understood where the authority came from, but it was the sharing of responsibility and the sharing of the pain and the suffering and the hardness of it, and if you ever forget that, it’s going to be very hard to be the full measure of leader that you want to be and that people would expect you to be.
So I just think, remember, the people around you are part of the family, even as you maintain the necessary authority through the respect that they will have for you because they know you’re commanding in the right way. I think that’s the most important thing I learned: Always take care of the troops.
MR KIRBY: Next question.
QUESTION: Sir, Midshipman First Class Nico Shyne, 4th Company. Information age technologies have fundamentally altered how people and states interact. As you mentioned in your comments, traditional diplomatic and military actions were carried out between nation-states. However, the increasingly low cost of entry for emerging technology means non-state actors wield significantly more power than they did before cyberspace was an active domain. As Secretary of State, what emerging technologies or concept altered your department’s role and America’s role on the international stage and how did you adapt to meet these changes?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a great question, Nico. We’ve been moving really rapidly – as rapidly as we can – to try to change our response to this advance of technology. ISIL has been particularly adept. It was surprisingly adept in the beginning at proselytizing through the social media, and we were simply not in a place to be able to adequately respond right away. But we knew we had to, so we adapted very significantly. We now have a Global Engagement Center in the State Department which is manned by a massive group – not big enough, in my judgment, but it has grown significantly – of digitally capable folks who know how to use the social media effectively. We’ve coordinated with the United Arab Emirates, with the Saudis and others, to build centers in those countries which are staffed by indigenous population so that we now have a capacity to go out in multiple languages – Urdu, Arabic, Somali; I mean, whatever – and communicate effectively. And we are now doing by exponentially – by X factor, we are swamping the capacity of Daesh to be able to do what they were doing previously.
Now, we’ve also done a bunch of other things. We’ve cut off their finance. We’ve targeted their oil production capacity which they used to raise money. We have significantly closed the portals for the movement of foreign fighters. We used to have about a thousand a month or a week that were going in. We cut that down to 500 – now it’s a trickle. And that’s work we’ve done outside of technology, but using technology, because we’ve got watch lists on aircraft, we’ve got incredible sharing of information with other countries, all of which is through the technology platform. So the result is we’re more nimble, we’re much faster, we’re much more efficient and effective, and shutting down their space.
In addition, we’ve taken most of their leadership off the battlefield. We’ve been incredibly effective at high-value-added targets, high-value targets. You may have read just yesterday we took out another group of plotters. We’re effective at staying ahead of many of these plots through our SIGINT and so forth. So we’re becoming much better at it. In the Global Engagement Center, we have built a capacity to put advertisements out – or advertise is the wrong word – narratives, counter-narrative that we put out using people who were previously jihadis but who realized the emptiness of what they were being asked to do and the false promises that were being made to them, and they come back and tell the story. That’s the most effective thing.
One of the things we learned in terms of adaptability is we’re the worst messengers. We need to find people who can validate that message just through who they are and what their background is and their native language and so forth. But I think we’re getting pretty skilled at it now, and it has made a real difference in our effort to isolate. We’ve now taken back about 65 percent of the land in Iraq that Daesh/ISIL had taken. We’ve liberated Ramadi, Tikrit, Mosul, Fallujah – Mosul, we’re now about 45 percent into the eastern part of Mosul, and I am convinced over the course of the next year we’re going to defeat Daesh. No question in my mind.
The challenge is there’s a Boko Haram out there, there’s an al-Shabaab out there, there’s Jaish-e-Mohammad out there, there’s Lashkar-e Tayyiba, there’s countless different players. And so this is going to be a long-term effort for us to stay ahead of the curve, protect the homeland, but also protect our allies and friends and win back the rule of law and the basic structure by which the world needs to organize itself. And that’s what we’re going to be working at.
MR KIRBY: I think our next question comes from Midshipman First Class Johnson. Is that right?
QUESTION: Thank you. Midshipman First Class Johnson. I’m from the 16th Company. Sir, my question for you deals specifically with recent threats made by North Korea to develop and deploy a nuclear ICBM that has a capability to threaten not only our allies in Asia, but potentially the western United States as well. The statements by the North Korean leadership and continued development of their nuclear weapons program is in direct violation of UN Resolution 50, as well as past and present U.S. administration policies. What specific recommendation or advice would you offer the new incoming administration to stop the development and deployment of nuclear weapons?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, my – it’s an excellent question. I mean, my advice to the next administration is that this is at the top. I don’t get into first or second or third, but this is at the top of a short group of major priorities. This is one of the most serious, if not the most serious. There’s a reckless dictator who holds his country effectively in a gulag, in a kind of prison. We don’t – he’s unpredictable, and recklessness and unpredictability for somebody who has their hands on nuclear weapons is a very genuine threat, and particularly as they pursue intercontinental ballistic capacity, which would threaten the United States of America.
We have made it crystal clear to the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, who are most immediately also threatened, and to the – to North Korea, that we will not accept them as a nuclear state. Now, we will make it clear to the incoming administration that there are diplomatic ways of increasing the pressure, which we’ve been ratcheting up. We’ve now passed two United Nations Security Council resolutions that are focused on the nuclear weaponry, and we’ve increasingly been able to bring China to the table to increase its pressure on North Korea with the hopes that we can get back to the Six-Party Talks – with Russia included, and Japan, and Korea, ourselves, and China – so that we can try to negotiate a way out of this predicament, as we did with Iran.
Now, the distinction is that Iran did not have a nuclear weapon. But we had a very tough sanctions regime on them because of their activities that were heading in that direction. North Korea has nuclear weaponry, and less of a competent sanctions regime. Why? Because North Korea doesn’t have much of an economy and they don’t have a terrific set of tentacles out there in the global community that you can bring the hammer down on. That’s why we think China is so critical to a resolution of the North Korea problem. Why? Because China provides 100 percent of the fuel that goes to North Korea – every airplane, every truck, every car that moves in North Korea gets its fuel from China – and because China also is the facilitator, through Beijing, for the banking system and for whatever movement of commerce there is, of money, et cetera, for the North Koreans.
So we really think China needs to increase its focus. We’ve got them to do it twice now. My counsel to the next administration will be to work with China very, very closely and try to get the Chinese to, in fact, have a greater impact on the North in order to affect their behavior.
Now, there is a point here where this gets dangerous, and it’s getting close to it right now. Because if he persists, as he said he would the other day, in moving forward on the intercontinental ballistic missile front, it more immediately drags the United States into an immediate threat situation, to which we then may have to find other ways or more forceful ways of having an impact on the choices that he is making. So this is a very big issue, but for the moment, I think we need the international community continuing to put pressure and to try to make it clear of all the benefits that could accrue to North Korea if they made a different set of choices.
Specifically, we’ve told them we’re prepared to negotiate economic assistance. We’re prepared to negotiate their normalization of a relationship with the world. We’re prepared to lift sanctions. We’re prepared to work on the issue of peace between North and South in Korea and the whole issue of the demarcation line and the armistice. Remember, there’s no peace agreement in North Korea. It’s an armistice. So that is yet a war to be fully ended, and we have offered literally peace. And conceivably, depending on what happens in the long run, re-deployment of forces and other kinds of things. In the meantime, we’ve deployed Aegis in the region. We’re contemplating the deployment of THAAD in order to protect ourselves. And we will do what we need to do to protect the United States of America and our friends and allies.
MR KIRBY: The next question comes from Midshipman First Class Larkin.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, sir. Midshipman First Class David Larkin from Fourth Company. Sir, you and the admiral mentioned how in Vietnam you served as an OSC of a swift boat and you were awarded the Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. When you returned, you joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War organization and spoke openly against the war, despite or perhaps because of your involvement in the war. Can you explain what led you to that decision to speak against the war and how we, as future officers, might face a similar decision?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I hope you never face a similar decision, because I hope that one of the lessons we all learned in Vietnam and during that long period of time, which was extremely difficult in this country – I hope we learned that we’re not going to lie to the American people, and I hope we learned that we will do due diligence in figuring out what is going on in a particular country before we decide to go in and before we commit the lives and the treasure of our nation into combat. We kind of drifted into Vietnam, with all due respect. And you need to – in your history courses, maybe some of you have already studied this, et cetera, but you should go back and read Bernard Fall; you should read about the French experience; you should read about – one of the best books in the world on the subject of Vietnam is “A Bright Shining Lie” by Neil Sheehan.
But there just were – it began in the late 1950s really, and into the ’60s. The CIA was involved, others. And then the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, and the United States sort of came into it. And we came into it significantly because we saw the world then in the context of the Soviet Union and the United States, the West and the big bear and the whole concept of communism, and communism and the domino theory taking over Southeast Asia. And I went over there to ostensibly fight against communism and stop the – to be part of this effort to deal with the alleged attack that took place in the Gulf of Tonkin and so forth.
So the war was raging in 1964, ’65, ’66, ’67. I didn’t get over there till ’68, and I came back in ’69, and I didn’t protest the war until ’71. And when I did protest it, it was the longest war in American history, and we were losing. We’d lost, by that period, some 50,000-plus lives. And many of us who fought over there – not everybody, people had different views – but many of us who fought over there came back with a sense that we were not, in fact, fighting for what we had been told we were going to fight for. And I saw that. I mean, I saw that in the villages. I saw that when I was on that boat in the rivers, and we’d go into a hamlet and you’d see the way people were looking at you, and you began to learn and feel how the enemy was behaving. And the enemy there was principally Vietcong who were the southern part of the front of their effort.
And what I discerned – and I think most people, if you go back and read the history, had earlier discerned – was that this was a civil war. This was a war for liberation from the French initially, and then from us. And that no amount of troops was going to ultimately make the difference. And so those of us who came back, a number of us who came back, became part of an effort of people who really felt that we were patriotic, that we were acting as patriots to stand up for our country, to stand up for a better policy, to stand up for what we thought was right. And at that point in time – and I think the books since then, the analysis of General Westmoreland’s experience, of Robert McNamara who was the defense secretary at the time, Melvin Laird was defense secretary before him – I just saw too many things that didn’t pan out.
I can remember missions we were sent on and I’d read about them in Stars and Stripes or somewhere and I’d say, “Boy, that wasn’t the mission I was on.” But I was on it. And we saw too many of those kinds of deceptions, and if you read Bright Shining Lie and a great warrior, John Paul Vann’s story in the war, you’ll really understand how things can go awry.
Now, we thought we’d made all the decisions not to sort of repeat that and we saw what happened in Iraq, where it turned out there weren’t weapons of mass destruction. And I will just tell all of you today, half of what we’re dealing with in the Middle East comes out of the residual effects, the fallout of the war in Iraq. The place was not divided by Shia and Sunni before that war. We didn’t have the topsy-turviness of what you see in the region until then, and it has highlighted sectarianism and other challenges in the region – proxy players and other kinds of things – in a very, very negative way.
So I believe what we did was the right thing to do to this day. I will tell you that, obviously, some people were very angry at me for it. It even came up in the course of my race for the presidency, so you can pay a price for doing what you think is right, but I’m convinced that what I did was the right thing. I stood up for the truth and I think the truth has been documented in many different places over the course of time.
MR KIRBY: Sir, we’ve got time for one last question and that will be from Midshipman First Class Lee.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, sir. I’m Midshipman Fourth Class Austin Cradle, Second Company.
SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: My question for you, sir, is: Are private morality and political morality distinct? And if so, what principles should govern political action?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they shouldn’t be extinct, or distinct, but there are times when you wonder. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Now, there is a distinction between digging into somebody’s personal life in ways that has no business being somehow part of the public discourse – that’s different. But that’s not necessarily, I think, the question of your test between private morality and public morality. I mean, stealing is stealing. Telling a lie is telling a lie. And all the things in between that constitute morality absolutely belong on somebody’s sleeve in terms of public behavior, and I don’t think it should be separated. Now – but I do separate from that – I think people have the privilege and right, obviously, of privacy of their home and I don’t think – and I think a lot of stuff that people try to throw into politics is sometimes irrelevant to their capacity to govern effectively. But if you can’t tell the truth and you don’t know how to be moral as a person, it’s hard to stand up for the morality of a nation and for the immorality of other people’s choices. And so I think that they are not particularly distinct writ large.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: Is that it? I’m getting the anchor here, the pull.
MODERATOR: Sir, (inaudible) the hook, but on behalf of the brigade of midshipmen and the entire Naval Academy, I want to say thank you for taking such special time and care to come and talk, your candor, and not just your service to the United States Navy, but to our nation. Thank you all very much. Let’s please give the Secretary a round of applause.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much.
Source: U.S. State Department.