Senator John Kerry (D-MA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, January 29, 2013 prior to the U.S. Senate's confirmation as Secretary Of State (image credit Alex Wong/Getty)
Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The Senate has confirmed Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry as the next secretary of State, replacing Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The vote was 94-3.
The vote came just hours after the Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination by voice vote. Kerry has led the committee for the past four years.
Kerry, 69, is a decorated Vietnam veteran and the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.
Supporters, such as former California congresswoman Jane Harman, say Kerry's 28 years of experience in the Senate, his passion and his many contacts among foreign leaders make him an ideal agent for promoting America "as a force for rule of law, the leader of democratic values, economic relations and human rights."
Kerry understands "that is what we have to sell" to the rest of world, Harman said.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry has chaired, approved him with a unanimous vote.
Kerry is a five-term senator who ran for president against George W. Bush in 2004. He received a Silver Star and three purple hearts as a Navy swift-boat commander during the Vietnam War, and later rose to prominence as an anti-war advocate who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. actions in Vietnam amounted to war crimes.
He replaces Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served the past four years as the United States' second female secretary of State, after two terms as senator representing New York state and eight years as first lady.
Critics, such as James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, said large treaties Kerry has promoted in the past smack of "a global governance agenda."
Kerry tried and failed to get the Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea in June, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December. He has spoken of pursuing a global warming treaty and said he supports the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which some Republicans have opposed because it says women should have access to family planning and abortions.
Kerry also supports the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, which was signed by President Clinton in 1996 but never ratified in the Senate.
Carafano said Kerry's goals are to promote the progressive agenda of the Democratic Party, and "taking the progressive agenda global."
Most of the treaties Kerry has championed are not bilateral agreements between two countries, but treaties that try to establish "global norms of behavior with mechanisms to manage them," Carafano said.
Such treaties "sound nice, but in reality these treaties wind up being oppressors of freedom," Carafano said. "None of these treaties carry any enforcement mechanisms."
Often, many countries that sign such treaties are bad actors who use them as cover to engage in bad behavior, Carafano said.
Amb. Karl Inderfurth, a former senior State Department official appointed under president Bill Clinton, also believes Kerry will pursue international treaties that the United States has neither signed nor ratified, and seek support for new agreements.
To knock treaties such as the nuclear test ban treaty as harmful to American sovereignty is a mistake made by people "who don't want any limitations on American's ability to act in any way we wish," Inderfurth said.
Establishing international law recognizing human rights, and banning poison gas and genocide has served U.S. interests, he said. Such treaties, signed after World War I and World War II, "do not prevent our freedom of action because we would not engage in those actions," he said.
President Clinton in the 1990s did not think the United States needed to engage in more nuclear tests, but the Senate's failure to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty made it more difficult to convince Pakistan and India to sign it, which hampered U.S. efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, Inderfurth said. Both countries have since tested nuclear weapons and developed nuclear arsenals.
As senator, Kerry made a priority of the Law of the Sea Treaty, but couldn't get it ratified despite support from some Republicans, Democrats, civilian, business and military leaders, Inderfurth said.
"That's an example of a treaty that the U.S. should be a part of, and it's harmful that we're not," he said.
In shipping conflicts in the South China Sea between China, Japan and the Philipines, "we don't have a leg to stand on to call attention to a treaty we haven't ratified," he said.
Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, also thinks Kerry will pursue treaties, though she doubts President Obama will seek to spend much political capital pursuing the 66 senators needed to ratify any.
"Our standing does not derive from treaties," Pletka said. "Our standing comes from our national interests. Good countries don't need treaties and bad countries don't observe treaties."