Much like in the rest of Europe, the 22nd Nato summit has been dominating the news agenda in Portugal – but not just because of the alliance’s new Strategic Concept, nor the likely announcements on missile defence and Afghanistan. For Lisbon, where the summit begins today and which precedes additional EU-US, ISAF and Nato-Russia summits, the logistical annoyances and extra costs have regularly been making headlines.
The events are taking place in the modern Parque das Nações, and the security operations surrounding them have been unprecedented – the clampdown on movement and commerce in the locale, the delays to already stifled road infrastructure thanks to highway and bridge closures, the €10m spent on police security supplies and armour – and the news that three-fifths of those supplies will arrive late anyway. Business on each side of the Portuguese-Spanish border is slowing further still because of new controls. This effort in mega-security, which involves at least 10,000 civil operations, is the country’s largest ever. If it is pulled off without a hitch, the government will breathe a sigh of relief after a year of political and economic calamity.
Like the Lisbon treaty, the use of the Portuguese capital as a site of historic meetings has implications that go beyond any actual power it holds in the alliance. Though its internal dramas are being scrutinised by markets, this summit is priceless in terms of visibility. “This is even truer in the case of a small country like Portugal that does not have a regular seat in every major decision-making body,” says Paulo Gorjão, director of the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security. “The Lisbon summit provides political prestige as well as a unique opportunity to appear worldwide in high-profile media. The fact that this will be a historic summit reinforces the benefits.”
Bearing in mind that Nato plans to cut the number of its military headquarters – although not this time round – the event also provides Portugal with a diplomatic advantage. According to Gorjão, Nato is planning to close down the Joint Command based in Oeiras – a decision the Portuguese government is against. “The fact that Portugal was also recently elected to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council means the summit gives a unique lobbying opportunity to Portugal with Nato members,” he says.
In the age of international broadcasting as public diplomacy, Portugal needs as much non-economic coverage as it can get. Google Lisbon now, and the news stories about its crises will be relegated to the bottom of the page. “The decisions taken at the summit will be remembered and cited for years using the name of the capital city,” says James Appathurai, a Nato spokesman. “It is a sign of the stature of the country – and a symbol of the contribution it is making.”