Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry at the U.S. Institute of Peace conference on Tuesday in Washington.

Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry at the U.S. Institute of Peace conference on Tuesday in Washington. (Dianna Cahn/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON – The United States is facing the most challenging global security environment in recent memory, two key Obama administration officials warned Tuesday as they urged the next administration not to turn its back on the world.

Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry warned that U.S. policies based on President-elect Donald Trump’s “America first” campaign slogan would be counterproductive to U.S. security interests and could ultimately be dangerous.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice, in separate comments at a daylong conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace, described threats ranging from major global and regional powers — China, Russia and North Korea — to terrorism and climate change.

“The global security landscape is as unsettled as at any time in recent memory,” said Rice, who spoke onstage ahead of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who will succeed her.

Rice said the Trump administration faces three major challenges:

• A diverse range of threats, including terrorism, climate change and weapons smuggling.

• Tensions with Russia and China, strife in the Arab world, and economic and refugee strains on Europe.

• The temptation to turn inward instead of facing these threats.

“We must protect ourselves and the international order we have built without subordinating our values or abandoning our alliances, partnerships and cooperation that have yielded unprecedented global prosperity and progress,” she said.

Kerry warned that with more than quarter of the world’s 1.5 billion children under 15 not going to school, a huge portion of the future generation is vulnerable to extremist indoctrination and recruitment.

The U.S. has been working to counter extremist information, but it needs to keep up its efforts to give those children opportunity, he said.

“I believe we need urgently a new Marshall Plan ... focused on the most critical states in the world ... particularly the Middle East, North Africa, South Central Asia,” Kerry said, referring to the U.S. aid incentive to rebuild Europe after World War II.

“I worry [about] this next administration when they talk about America First,” he said. “Yeah, we all understand what that means and where it comes from, but if it means turning away from those other things, we have a problem.”

The conference, titled “Passing the Baton,” comes 10 days before Trump’s inauguration, in the wake of a highly combative election that has left the United States deeply divided.

Flynn, who shook hands with Rice and praised her 25-minute speech and the strong transition assistance from her team, declined to offer any specifics on his national security plans.

In an 11-minute speech that did not mention any country by name, he said the “gravity of this moment is a bit overwhelming” and that America’s alliances were critical to its role as world leader in the fight for liberty.

In a separate panel before the speeches by Rice and Flynn, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned that the lack of a clear, immediate foreign policy for the new administration could lead to U.S. vulnerabilities.

She said that no administration can work in a vacuum.

“The world is a mess,” Albright said. “Foreign policy and national security policy doesn’t come in four-year and eight-year segments. There is no clean slate.”

Rice said she would continue to be available to Flynn after he takes office.

“This was a tough and hard-fought election. But our national security is – and must always remain — above the fray,” Rice said.

She describes the job as being the quarterback without the glory or the high pay.

“In an uncertain world, he and his team will be shouldering extraordinary responsibilities for keeping America safe and strengthening a global order that has prevented a war among major powers for the past 75 years.” Twitter: @DiannaCahn

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