Speaking with students at Indiana University in Bloomington on October 15, 2015. [State Department photo]

Engage America: Peace Happens through People

John Kerry
Jul 15, 2016 · 4 min read

As Secretary of State, I have spent countless hours negotiating with leaders and meeting with people from around the world. These experiences have taught me that diplomacy is not the exclusive domain of meeting rooms in capitals, but also takes place in communities, large and small, around the globe. Diplomacy may seem like the business of major agreements, but more frequently it is incremental progress towards mutually acceptable goals, and the daily work of maintaining positive relationships.

Left: Chatting with young Indian leaders in New Delhi, India. Right: Sitting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy Salehi before a meeting in Switzerland during the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiations. [State Department photos]

In today’s interconnected world, community influencers play a monumental role in shaping the perceptions of our country so that both our allies and our adversaries can better understand us and our values. Forging mutual understanding leads to building bridges between peoples.

Whether through trade, art, music, food or sports, the many common interests that people share transcend boundaries and lead to lasting peace. The security of our nation depends upon what happens far beyond our shores. If we cannot maintain peace abroad, we are not assured of peace and prosperity at home.

Sixty years ago — in a far different time in global communication and technology — at the 1956 White House Summit on Citizen Diplomacy, President Eisenhower endorsed the important role that American across the nation would play in our diplomatic strategy as he launched Sister Cities International. The President envisioned a network that would champion peace and prosperity by fostering bonds between people from different communities around the world. By forming these relationships, President Eisenhower reasoned that people from different cultures could understand, appreciate, and celebrate their differences while building partnerships based upon their commonalities that would lessen the chance of new conflicts.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s remarks at the White House Conference on September 11, 1956 to establish the People-to-People Program.

Since its inception, Sister Cities International, along with many similar organizations, has thrived because of the hard work of millions of dedicated volunteers. These volunteers have played an integral role in renewing and strengthening important relationships that span the globe, while serving as frontline advocates for our values.

The citizen diplomacy envisioned by President Eisenhower of course begins at home. It is critical that the American public understand the value of diplomacy and that they can constitute an important part of the formula for modern diplomatic success.

However, to be truly effective, our diplomacy efforts must be a reflection of our diversity, one of our nation’s greatest strengths. In addition to communicating to the American public that every citizen can play an important role in modern diplomacy, it is also important to convey just how citizen diplomacy works best, and that is by creating genuine relationships and friendships abroad so that consensus can be reached and compromise won.

In an ever globalizing world, cities in particular are emerging as key players in solving some of the most difficult international challenges. Whether it is climate change, combating violent extremism, or promoting good governance, cities play a central role in how we tackle the big problems of the 21st century. Global cities are coming together to form international networks, collaborating on common problems, sharing information and pulling resources to manage risks.

Left: Talking with California Governor Brown at the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris last December. Right: Chinese Vice Premier Yang and I pose for a photo with U.S. and Chinese Mayors at the U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing. [State Department photos]

And because cities sit at the intersection of the mega-trends of urbanization and climate change, they are on the front-lines of combating these challenges. In recognition of these trends, I started Cities@State, an initiative focused on how the State Department can leverage cities to combat these and other global trends and help achieve U.S. foreign policy goals at the sub-national level.

Finally, diplomacy matters and individual citizens and their leaders are at the heart of it. For that reason, the State Department has launched Engage America, a public outreach initiative that strives to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the American public about the important value of diplomacy and its tangible impact on American lives. While funding for the foreign assistance only accounts for 1 percent of the federal budget, it earns Americans an enormous return on their investment.

I believe the best foreign policy starts with making it less foreign to those at home, and that is why I have called for U.S. diplomats to bring their efforts home, to meet with Americans in communities throughout the country, and, most importantly, to share their stories of American diplomacy in action.

We want to ensure that Americans understand that every interaction they have with someone abroad matters, because those millions of conversations will eventually define how others see us as a nation. We see the signing of treaties and other major agreements as seminal moments when we have ‘won the peace,’ but the reality is that the actions of individual citizens and local leaders, and the relationships they form, will allow us to keep it.

Delivering remarks at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, February 20, 2013. [State Department photo]

60 Days of Impact

60 Days of Impact is a Sister Cities International campaign highlighting 60 years of building peaceful global relationships through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation. Content includes stories, photos, and videos from sister cities, Mayors, Ambassadors, and experts.

John Kerry

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Teresa’s husband, 28 years representing Massachusetts in @USSenate, 68th U.S. Secretary of @StateDept and now proudly partnering with @Yale & @CarnegieEndow.

60 Days of Impact

60 Days of Impact is a Sister Cities International campaign highlighting 60 years of building peaceful global relationships through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation. Content includes stories, photos, and videos from sister cities, Mayors, Ambassadors, and experts.

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