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The Circus is in Town. The Nato summit and the big story in Lisbon

Over the weekend of the 19th-20th, Portugal is host to the 2010 NATO Lisbon Summit. On the docket are serious issues related to the re-organization of NATO in a world of vastly different security threats than when the treaty was first signed in 1949. The role of an emerging European Union and how NATO adapts to global terrorism, energy security, piracy and cyber threats are all on the docket as well as the contentious issue of expansion, as membership has been extended to the Balkans and former Warsaw Pact nations, with Russian officials vociferously opposed to further broadening the pact to include Ukraine and Georgia as well as other former Soviet states. The focus of much of the international press will be on these major issues, with NATO’s big players—the US, Germany, France and the UK—dominating discussions as they always do. With so many dignitaries and heads of state coming to town, the meetings have caused no end of headaches for residents of Portugal and Lisbon, as security measures have caused much of the city and movement within it to be closed for the weekend. But this only heightens the fact that Portugal always gets really excited when global international events happen locally. Events like the world expo, international futebol tournaments, performances by globally renowned music acts and papal visits, all cause a similar stir as has been the case with the NATO summit. I suppose such events allow the denizens of this little forgotten sliver of Europe to feel, for a short time, like we too belong to the rest of the world. Local politicians all scramble to be seen with the big players and the local press runs to make reports. The fact that Obama's plane landed in Portugal was the top news story, the *top* news story, on the websites of Portugal's largest newspapers, O Publico and the Diário das Notícias—each with the identical absurd headline "Obama já está em Lisboa" (Obama is already in Lisbon) providing the exact minute that the plane touched down. Accompanying articles delve into the power-brokers, prime ministers and presidents who will be in town, as other headlines trumpet the historic nature of the summit. Protests are taking place as well, some with specific ends others with vaguer sentiments promoting "peace". But for several thousand people to appear at Praça Camões as they did Friday night for an Anti-NATO rally—or any event in Portugal for that matter—indicates the presence of the summit in the consciousness of the public, even if the public was largely there to listen to Mercado Negro and Terrakota, the two Lisbon music acts headlining the event. What actually gets decided at the summit, however, will be less interesting to Portugal. Portugal's puny military contribution is largely limited to granting NATO access to the Azores air base, which the US controls in any case. With such limited influence, Portugal is in reality, largely an observer at the meetings and as it is so reliant on the US for its security, the Portuguese delegation will go along—as such Portuguese delegations usually do—with whatever is consistent with US military objectives. No, the real story is about all of the power that is here in Lisbon. With the whole world watching, Portugal gets to swagger around like an important global political player. On Sunday, we go back to being a forgotten backwater at the edge of the Iberian peninsula.

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