[Skip to Content]

25 September 2014

The day Obama came to town

The day Obama came to town

Scotland dominated the news in the run-up to the referendum on 18 September, but for the citizens of the south Wales city of Newport, the month of September 2014 will be remembered for the NATO Summit and the day "Obama came to town".

The announcement that this NATO Summit would be held in Newport was made by David Cameron back in November 2013. He said it would be an opportunity to "showcase the modern, successful Wales" and, with Northern Ireland hosting the G8, London the Olympics and Scotland the Commonwealth Games, it was "Wales' turn for one of these big events."

It was not the first high-profile international event to be held in the city's Celtic Manor hotel but the third, following the EU Foreign Ministers Summit in 2005 and golf's Ryder Cup in 2010.

The Wales Summit brought together 28 heads of state, another 180 VIPs and 4,000 delegates from approximately 60 countries. The agenda was dominated by Ukraine, facing increasing instability in the east of the country through covert Russian aggression, and the escalating threat of ISIS, now the Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria.

Originally, the Summit was meant to focus on "smart defence" –the need for NATO members to focus on the pooling of resources at a time of global defence cuts. However, as often happens, the urgent and pressing needs of the moment dictated the final agenda.

NATO Members Poland and the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were keen to discuss Ukraine in light of their own proximity to Russia and growing concerns over Vladimir Putin's geopolitical aspirations. The barbaric beheading by ISIS of US journalist Steven Sotloff on the eve of the summit was also a grim reminder to delegates of the growing threat of Islamist extremism on Europe's doorstep.

There were a number of outcomes from the Summit by way of statements, agreements and declarations and it was deemed a resounding success. Indeed, pre-event grumblings over the security inconvenience caused to locals gave way to a post-event afterglow. Local Labour MP Paul Flynn, on the impact of the summit on the host city, said "Thousands of very influential people will now be favourably disposed towards Newport. Large areas of the world are aware of our existence and the facilities that we have to offer. The rewards are intangible and cannot be measured with certainty, but they will be immense."

And of course there were humorous memes doing the rounds on social media. A favourite had a picture of President Obama giving a speech with the words below: "When I get back, I'm going to teach you all how to cwtch [Welsh word for 'cuddle']. This is the way to world peace."