The experts, meeting on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, said Kerry would be less reliant on military solutions to U.S. security concerns.
They also said Kerry would seek to reform international institutions such as the United Nations and work through them to advance U.S. interests more effectively than the Bush administration has done.
Richard Holbrooke is an architect of the Bosnian peace accord and is considered a top choice for secretary of state in a Kerry administration. He told the panel that Kerry would enter office far better equipped than Bush to direct foreign affairs.
Holbrooke called Kerry's Vietnam War experience "the critical event in his life." He also cited Kerry's 20 years of service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "[Kerry] cares about international issues and he will come to the presidency, if he's elected, better qualified to deal with them than any president in recent memory -- with, ironically, the exception of the first President Bush."
A former defense secretary in the Clinton administration, William Perry, said Democratic policymakers in the past have shown skill in dealing with dangers that face the country today.
He cited Clinton's successful effort to remove nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Perry also recalled the use of NATO in helping to end the Bosnian war.
Perry said his main critique of Bush's war on terror is what he called a failure to make full use of international bodies and alliances to fight that war: "America should not have to fight the war on terrorism without the full support of nations around the world. And to get the full support of those nations, we will have to pay serious attention to their ideas."
Another foreign policy adviser attending the convention yesterday was Gary Hart, a former senator who more than three years ago headed a national commission stressing the new challenges posed by terrorism. The commission outlined a post-Cold War national security policy, which Hart says was ignored by the Bush administration, causing a drift in policy.
Hart says the chief challenges facing the world involve failed states, terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as global warming and south-north migration. A Kerry administration, Hart says, would put in place a strategy to confront such new problems, incorporating an "internationalist" foreign policy: "Our strategy for the better part of the second half of the 20th century, as you know, was containment of communism. That central organizing principle no longer applies and what the Kerry campaign and a Kerry administration will represent is the restoration of a sense of strategic purpose and direction to this country that, as Ambassador Holbrooke has said, is internationalist at its core."
The panelists all cited the importance of the United Nations but said the organization must be reformed, especially in its ability to deal with security threats.
Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN, said the organization has suffered from American neglect under the Bush administration: "The UN is an indispensable but flawed institution. We have to strengthen it, make it better -- not continue to weaken it. It is a mess, but it's the only mess we've got, and we cannot walk away from it without making it a bigger mess."
The Kerry campaign's national security adviser, Rand Beers, also suggested a new administration would soften Washington's stance on the International Criminal Court. The Bush administration has opposed the court and worked vigorously to exempt U.S. nationals from prosecution, causing some friction among allies.
Beers said in response to a question at the panel that the Kerry campaign has not taken a position on the court but would consider some adjustment in policy related to it: "I think we would look very seriously about removing the requirement for assistance, U.S. assistance, to require other countries to sign a pledge not to prosecute U.S. citizens in an International Criminal Court."
The United States in the past two years has signed a series of bilateral agreements with states that are signatories to the ICC to ensure U.S. personnel abroad will not be tried before the court.
U.S. legislation places limits on various forms of U.S. military assistance to governments, other than NATO members and specified allies, that refuse to sign the bilateral agreements, unless the president issues a waiver stating that continued military aid is in the national interest.