By Jamie Crawford, reporting from Charlottesville, Virginia
Even in an era of budget austerity in Washington, continued investment in foreign aid and American diplomacy will benefit the economy, and is cheaper in cost and risk than requiring future overseas military deployments, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Just days before departing on his first overseas trip as the nation's top diplomat, Kerry chose his first foreign policy address on Wednesday to lay out out the case for continued American engagement.
"How we conduct our foreign policy matters to our everyday lives – not just in terms of the threats we face, but in the products we buy, the goods we sell, the jobs we create, and the opportunity we provide for economic growth and vitality," Kerry told a University of Virginia audience.
"It's not just about whether we'll be compelled to send our troops into another battle, but whether we'll be able to send our graduates into a thriving workforce," he said.
The venue in Charlottesville, Virginia, was notable as the state's flagship university was founded by Thomas Jefferson, America's first secretary of state and its third president.
The address was delivered with Kerry set to leave Sunday on a nine-country trip to Europe and the Middle East.
The appearance also came with government-wide spending cuts set to take effect on March 1 absent a congressional agreement to avert them.
The State Department, along with many other federal agencies, has warned about the impact of the deep, automatic cuts, called sequestration.
"It's often said that we can't be strong at home if we're not strong in the world, but in these days of a looming budget sequester that everyone wants to actually avoid, we can't be strong in the world unless we are strong at home," he said.
Kerry said it was his job to explain how a reduction in foreign affairs spending could open a dangerous vacuum where terrorists could exploit the absence of American values globally, and where American businesses could not compete.
American diplomats operating in embassies and consulates have laid the groundwork for American companies to win businesses in countries like Thailand, Cameroon, Bosnia and South Africa, Kerry said.
With some of the fastest emerging markets located in the developing world, Kerry stressed that American engagement abroad is essential to maintaining economic prosperity at home.
"Let me be very clear, foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It is not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and free world," he said. "And if we're going to seize this budget crisis as the great opportunity it can be, we can't shy away from telling this story to the American people, to your members of Congress and to the world."
And with daily threats directed at the United States from Northern Africa, Pakistan and the Arabian peninsula, he said that "deploying diplomats today is much cheaper than deploying troops tomorrow."
American promotion of education, gender equality and health and nutrition overseas also serve to keep the country more secure, Kerry said.
Kerry aides signaled what he intends to emphasize during his tenure at the State Department.
"The secretary is not only looking abroad as he conducts his job, but also domestically, as he connects his diplomacy with daily life and the American economy," his aides told CNN.
CNN's Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.