NATO descends on Wales.

Posted by: Dr John Jewell

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which comprises 28 nations dedicated, according to its website, to safeguarding the freedom and security of its members through political and military means, holds its latest summit in South Wales on the 4th and 5th of September. 

 Including the main talks at the Celtic Manor Hotel in Newport and evening events in Cardiff, world leaders such as Barak Obama, French President Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel will be looking to address issues which threaten NATO countries’ national security, from fragile states to piracy, from terrorism to cyber attacks.

The impact of preparing a security operation capable of guaranteeing the safety of such high profile dignitaries, 10,000 support staff and 2,000 journalists is being keenly felt in and around Cardiff and Newport. 20 km of Steel fencing now encloses the Celtic Manor along the M4 whilst in Cardiff this huge and imposing security fencing has been erected around the two venues holding events, causing increased traffic congestion. The city centre itself is now home to vast yellow security barriers designed to stop terrorists detonating car bombs. There are to be no fly zones enforced and in the week of the conference Cardiff Bay will be home to seven NATO ships whilst some 9,500 police officers will engaged on the ground. It is, according to the Chris Armitt, the police chief in charge of the operation, ‘uncharted territory’.

Given the precarious situation the world finds itself in now and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pronouncement that the summit, ‘will be one of the most important in NATO’s history, its little wonder that such measures have been taken. But the scale of operation is even more staggering when one considers what the world’s leaders will bring to the party by way of ensuring their protection.

Let’s consider Obama. We can’t be sure of the exact size and composition of entourage but we can certainly predict that it will awesome to behold. Travelling with the President will be CIA, FBI, secret service, political advisors, doctors, dieticians and so on. When he visited Brussels in March, for one day, it was with 900 staff, 45 vehicles and three aeroplanes.  Leading the motorcade down the M4 and into Cardiff will be Cadillac One – the supercar that travels with Obama on every foreign trip. This is a machine that reportedly includes 8-inch plates capable of stopping an improvised explosive device and 5-inch multi-layer windows that make the doors as heavy as those on a 757 jet. It is also sealed against biochemical attacks and contains a blood bank matching the President’s type.

Now consider that Obama is only one of 67 heads of states and foreign secretaries.

Besides all this there are the protestors to consider. The South Wales Argus states that some 20,000 are expected with events planned such as a counter summit, a week long peace camp and frequent marches – the biggest of which will probably be by Stop the war on August 30th

For the thousands of journalists covering the summit – all must be accredited. That is to say they must have registered with NATO by August 4th in order to guarantee a place. Without this registration access to the media centre will be denied. NATO is of course dependent on good publicity and with the media centre it appears that every effort has been made to make the reporters jobs as comfortable as possible. There will be a working area of 900 spaces, screens displaying broadcast feeds from the summit and edit booths. As an added bonus, tea coffee and water will be available free of charge.

But as traffic problems continue to mount in and around Cardiff and Newport announces the closure of the majority of its schools whilst the summit takes place many are asking whether the sustained disruption is worth the trouble. In then very short term of course, the summit may well prove to be boon for the hoteliers and caterers of South Wales. First minister, Carwyn Jones, thinks that the opportunity is there for Wales to show its business worth to the world whilst Lori Healey an  organiser of the previous summit in Chicago in 2912 told Wales Online: ‘You could spend millions of dollars on advertising around the world to try to attract tourists, but to have them to be able to come and think wow, this is a really beautiful place, maybe I will bring my family back here, maybe I will recommend this to people to come and visit. You can’t even put a price tag on that.’

This is just PR speak, but to be fair to the summit organisers it appears that great efforts have been made to showcase Welsh talent. Students from Cardiff Metropolitan University’s  international, hospitality, management, and event management programmes are to help prepare a dinner for the delegates  whilst the two vast conference tables which have been specially made have been crafted by a South Walian cabinet maker from four tonnes of wood, with table legs made in Bridgend, Welsh Oak sourced from a firm in Swansea and laminated wood from Cardiff. 

But what about the financial implications of such a gargantuan event taking place in a working, city environment? The month long road closures will clearly have an impact but in the very short term the summit should  prove to be a boon for the hoteliers, caterers and small businesses of South Wales.  In terms of picking up the bill for the security measures and the extra police, those costs will be borne by NATO and the UK government. Some may guess at what the final sum might be, but we do know that in June 2012 Chicago city presented a bill to NATO for nearly $15.6 million in expenses. Newsweek states that this year’s event is ‘conservatively estimated’ to cost £50m.

For those of us who live and work in the affected areas of South Wales the interference into our daily lives for two days of events stretches over a month. But given the heightened state of tension that exists throughout the world today the level of security employed is not surprising. It is probably necessary. How the region will cope over the two days of events, protests, motorcades, marches and functions will test the patience of all involved.

 An edited version of this article appears in The Conversation.