The NATO summit of Thursday 4th September and Friday 5th September 2014 was held in the five star Celtic Manor Hotel at Newport, South Wales. The luxury hotel which was the setting for the 2010 Ryder Cup is owned by Welsh-Canadian Sir Terence Hedley Matthews who is Wales’s first billionaire. Newport born Matthews made his fortune out of over 80 companies in the high tech communications field.
The luxury of the extravagant Celtic Manor contrasts with the relative poverty of Newport some areas of which are the poorest in the UK. If anyone actually pays a visit to the Celtic Manor website it avoids the word `Newport` like the plague and highlights the Vale of Usk connection - it’s called PR, marketing and story telling.
The venues of the NATO summit in Newport and in the Welsh capital Cardiff were surrounded by around 20 miles of fencing which took months to put up though it was anticipated that it would be all down by Sunday 7th September. Around 10,000 extra police were drafted in to the area from a plethora of other forces, 43 in all, including Cheshire, Greater Manchester and London. Their presence was largely symbolic as they had very little policing to actually do. The size of the three demonstrations on Saturday 30th August and the two on Thursday September 4th at Celtic Manor and outside the banquet in Cardiff on Thursday evening were disappointingly small. It may that the giant security apparatus may have deterred a very large gathering.
The demonstration of Saturday 30th August was reported by the BBC website:
The demonstration of Thursday 4th September assembled at 12 noon by the cenotaph in Clarence Place and up to a thousand protesters marched off at 1245 for the three and a half mile march up Chepstow Road to Celtic Manor. The march while on the small side was very vibrant and noisy with many Palestinian flags evoking the memory of the attack on Gaza just a few weeks ago which left over 2,000 Gazans dead – including many children. Sadly Palestine did not seem to be on NATO’s agenda as they announced the creation of a `rapid reaction force` to be directed at some enemy presumably Russia.
Placards read `Nuclear NATO no thanks` and ` Google Gladio` - [Gladio refers to a clandestine NATO operation in Europe during the Cold War]. Also `Save Donbass People - Stop NATO/Bilderberg Empire` - Bilderberg referring to the annual meeting of the great and good [banksters, businessmen, politicians etc.] at a luxury hotel. This year’s conference was held at the Marriott hotel in Copenhagen and was attended by British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who is still influential at 91.
The protest arrived at the police cordon outside the Celtic Manor about 1400 after an hour and a quarter march. There for about an hour and a half there was loud chanting of `No to NATO, no new wars!` and `Free, free Palestine!` `From the river to the sea Palestine will be free` `1,2,3,4 occupation no more!` While all this was taking place a surveillance helicopter was circling overhead. Some of the rally hammered at the metal police cordon and one protester climbed to the top of the fence to wave a placard at the massed ranks of police inside saying `NATO time to go`.
The Celtic Manor is described lovingly as two adjoining hotels, a country inn, luxury lodges, two spas, 6 restaurants, three championship golf courses, two golf and country clubs, high ropes courses, adventure golf, laser tag, archery and a multi-purpose conference centre. Quite a cut above the Tredegar Park peace camp then!
The media of Friday 5th September seemed to have nothing on the demonstration – on the BBC1 one O’clock news Bridget Kendall, with a majestic shot of the 2,000 acres of the Celtic Manor panoramic parkland behind her, spoke of “Russian expansion on NATO’s borders”. This is a remarkable inversion of reality as NATO has expanded right up to Russia’s borders after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 with NATO actually holding conferences in the Baltics as in the Riga summit of 2006 in the former Soviet republic of Latvia. Just before this year’s Celtic Manor summit President Obama had been in the Estonian capital Tallinn with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The BBC website reports:
“Correspondents say the three states, which joined NATO in 2004, are worried about Russia's intervention in Ukraine.
Later in the week Mr Obama will attend a NATO summit that is expected to back plans for a rapid-response force that could be dispatched within 48 hours.
Nato recently announced plans to set up the force to protect Eastern European members against possible Russian aggression.”
Come again? Russian aggression? NATO was formed in 1949 with 12 members supposedly to protect Western Europe against the threat of a Soviet invasion which never happened. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 it might have been thought that NATO would therefore be defunct but instead it has steadily expanded eastwards and now encompasses many countries that were in the old Warsaw pact. NATO now has 28 members and is hoping to get Ukraine to join as well. As Stratfor Global Intelligence puts it: “All its (Russia’s) former satellites -- plus three of its former republics -- are in an alliance with a nuclear first-strike policy that was formed to counter the Red Army. Its only reliable allies are an incompetently led Belarus and militarily insignificant Armenia.”
The lunchtime BBC one O’clock news had political correspondent Norman Smith telling us how `NATO is sending a strong message to President Putin` while informing us that the next NATO summit will be in Warsaw, Poland in 2016 – once again a conference of nuclear armed powers with a first strike policy right on Russia’s borders.
Channel Four News of Thursday 4th September had Matt Frei speaking of `Brazen Russian aggression` presumably meaning the ceasefire between Russia and the Ukraine which left Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko looking `ashen` while by contrast President Barack Obama was grinning for photo ops at Stonehenge in nearby Wiltshire.
Regarding the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia, Obama said:
“I am hopeful but I am also sceptical.”
The anti-NATO demonstration ended around 3.30 with many people making their way to Cardiff for the protest at the so-called `dinner of death` meaning the lavish banquet held for the summit leaders at Cardiff Castle.
The Western Mail, National Newspaper of Wales, had as its front page lead on Friday September 5th a glamorous floodlit shot of Cardiff Castle bathed in a soft light with a group of world leaders posing ahead of that night’s NATO summit dinner. The headline read` The day the world came to Wales`. That same day’s paper covered the joint visit by Obama and David Cameron to a Newport school. `A 22-car convoy carrying the two leaders swept into the Newport school at around 9.40 am and the pair stayed for around half an hour as they met with school children. `
Opposite this was a report of the previous day’s march from the Cenotaph to Celtic Manor. The paper reported how a delegation of around a dozen people from protest group No NATO Newport were allowed to pass through the gate and present written messages to government officials. Pippa Bartolotti, leader of the Welsh Green Party, was among the group who met officials and said a friend carried out a `citizen’s arrest` on the two government representatives. She said afterwards: “As I walked through it reminded me of an Israeli checkpoint, it reminded me of when I was arrested in Israel. There were riot police behind there, lined up. One of our delegation put their hand on the shoulder of the gentleman from The Home Office, who would not give his name, and said `I hereby make a citizen’s arrest for enabling war crimes. ` She then did exactly the same thing to the gentleman form the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whose name was David and she said: ‘I hand you over to the police for further investigation. ` “The police, of course, did nothing.”
The day after the summit ended the South Wales Echo of Saturday 6th September relayed Barack’s appreciation of his visit ` Thank you Wales, I’ve had a wonderful time, says a grateful Obama` The paper thrilled us with news of the sumptuous banquet at Cardiff Castle informing the reader `They tucked into Welsh lamb, then went home with a goodie bag of Welsh cakes, whisky, poems and some socks`. For all those interested we were enlightened that `Crabs from Cardigan Bay and lamb from the Brecon Beacons joined Wye Valley asparagus on the menu for world leaders at Cardiff Castle on Thursday. ` It gets better and better with `The leaders snacked on roast beef and horseradish and goat’s cheese and fig canapés` and `The three-course meal kicked off with smoked salmon from the Black Mountain Smokery and Cardigan Bay Crab served with avocado and lemon jelly. For their main, the leaders enjoyed roast saddle of Brecon Beacon lamb with Welsh new potatoes, heirloom tomato and Wye Valley Asparagus. The meal was finished off with a jar of Welsh fruit summer pudding and New Yard’s Creamery crème fraiche. ` Sounds delicious! Perhaps some of the victims of NATO’s military adventures in Serbia, Libya and Afghanistan would like to eat as well as this.
The South Wales Echo of Saturday 6th September also had plugs for the military with pages 6 and 7 devoted to `Military planes keep the crowds waiting… but. wow, was it worth the wait` and a `stunning image` of the RAF red arrows jetting over HMS Duncan in Cardiff Bay`. Over photos of French Navy Ship La Motte Picquet and HMS Duncan, a Royal Navy Destroyer, we were cordially invited to `Now come and have a look: crowds expected at Meet the Forces Day`. Sunday 7th September was an opportunity to `explore ships including the Type-45 Destroyer HMS Duncan, one of the Navy’s most advanced ships, climb army walls, examine tanks and RAF replica planes and enjoy military bands.`
The two day summit soon vanished from the media spotlight with there being no mention on the Sunday 7th September Andrew Marr show. Reviewing the Sunday papers on the programme were CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour who reviewed the papers with Alan Johnson MP – a lot of mainstream blether but I noticed she used the term `International Community` about 7 times. It is never made clear by journalists and political pundits exactly who or what this `International Community` is – Noam Chomsky has said that the leaders of the powerful western nations refer to themselves as the International Community as if they somehow owned the world. The late Tony Benn MP described the International Community as “What Washington tells London to do.”
Sunday’s Observer only seemed to mention the NATO summit in passing leading on the surprise news that the Yes campaign has taken the lead in the upcoming referendum on Scottish Independence. However Wales on Sunday led on `How Police foiled NATO gunpowder plot` referring to a find of fireworks and smoke canisters in undergrowth near Cardiff Castle. Inside there were articles about how `NATO could be worth hundreds of millions to tourism` and in Daily Mail fashion there was a piece of how `Cardiff’s a hot spot for asylum seekers`.
Well, the NATO summit is over and the next one will be in two years’ time in Poland. What did this year’s summit achieve? To paraphrase Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was the price `worth it`? The final price in financial terms was actually £85 million after the original budget of £50 million overran. The disruption to the people in Newport and Cardiff was perhaps not much more than an inconvenience but why was all this security and secrecy so necessary? The priorities of the powers that be seems to involve spending vast sums to protect influential people who have to hide from those they are supposed to represent. There was barely a glimpse of President Obama or even the British Prime Minister David Cameron. The only people who got close were dependable mainstream journalists like Bridget Kendall, Norman Smith and Matt Frei.
The demonstrations were a little disappointing with the protesters actually outnumbered by the 1,500 journalists who covered the summit.
The journalists who are our fearless seekers after truth seemed a little miffed by the poor coordination of their transport at the summit. Their gripes were reported by Wales Online: ` International reporters covering the Nato Summit have hit out at some of the organisation behind the event – and branded Thursday night’s transport arrangements a “shambles”.
Hundreds of journalists were stranded for more than an hour as they waited for an event bus to ferry them to an event, with one even being taken not just to the wrong city, but the wrong nation too.
An Australian journalist revealed he ended up near Bristol after he was guided onto the wrong coach by summit workers.
And reporters were stranded in a Celtic Manor car park on the same night as the keynote summit dinner in Cardiff Castle after problems with the network of coaches running in and out of the security cordon.`
The journalists were stranded for an hour while the protesters at Cardiff Castle waited for up to six hours to try and get a glimpse of the `leader of the free world`. They waited in vain as he sneaked in and out presumably by helicopter as his motorcade was just a diversion.
The journalist Nick Miller, Europe correspondent at the Australian firm Fairfax Media, said he finished work at Celtic Manor about 8pm and went to the car park to wait for the bus to the official media reception in Newport, taking place at Tredegar House.
“Almost an hour later a couple of buses turn up, not going to the reception, just down the hill to the Hilton. By now there are hundreds of journalists behind me. Some furious, some amused, most of them tweeting,” he said.
“I got on the bus with heaps of people still behind me. Down at the Hilton, with two colleagues I got on a bus that one of the officials told us was going to Newport. Close enough we thought, we can grab a taxi.
“We ended up in a dimly lit car park outside Bristol.”
He managed to get another bus to a park and ride site, and was offered a lift by another journalist who was also put on the wrong bus.
He said he finally got to the reception “two hours after we had finished work”.
“Thankfully there was still plenty of booze and food being served because we were starving. We just missed the orchestra. First World problems, right?”
He suggested the transport arrangement for the media were badly thought out - he didn’t think the organisation of the summit was terrible “but it feels a bit underprepared and there were a fair number of little things that were over looked or fixed in a hurry on day one”.
He said one Aussie colleague left the summit venue at 11.30pm on Thursday, “got on a bus which she was told was going to her hotel in Cardiff, then the bus ended up at a completely different hotel in Cardiff”.
“He told her to call a taxi. She had no idea where she was,” he said.
Michael Abrams, a photographer with US military newspaper Stars and Stripes, said he waited 45 minutes on Friday morning for a bus from the Park Inn, in Cardiff.
“My time could have been put to better use,” he said.
“It’s a little bit frustrating when you wait 15 minutes and wait another 15 minutes, when its meant to come every 15 minutes – that’s what the schedule was.”
He said he had reckoned that the security around the event is one of the likely issues, but didn’t think it would leave a bad taste in the mouth with journalists.
“Everybody will be complaining today - the next time they go to one they will be complaining again,” he said.
“I think it’s no worse organised they any other NATO summits I have been to.”
Tom Newton Dunn of the Sun quipped that Thursday night’s issues amounted to the “battle of Newport: 100s of angry euro media close to rioting over no buses for an hour out of #NATOSummitUK.”
“Brit hacks remaining stoic,” he said on Twitter.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “There was a significant delay in being able to transport media from the Summit venue last night. We apologise to all those that were inconvenienced."
Oh dear, poor them!