"In a sense, John's entire life has prepared him for this role. As the son of a foreign service officer, he has a deep respect for the men and women in the state department," Mr. Obama said with Kerry at his side.
If confirmed, Kerry would replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long stated her intentions to leave early next year. Clinton, who is recovering from a concussion sustained in a fall, did not attend the Roosevelt Room announcement.
"He is not going not need a lot of on-the-job training," Mr. Obama said. "Few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers or grasp our policies as firmly as John Kerry."
Kerry's nomination marks the first move in a sweeping overhaul of the president's national security team heading into his second term.
Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, losing a close election to incumbent George W. Bush. He has served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a decorated Vietnam veteran who was critical of the war effort when he returned home to the United States. He has represented Massachusetts in the Senate since 1985.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.