Why are so many people so quick to label the upcoming 2012 NATO summit as a disaster in the making? If Chicago truly is the world-class cosmopolitan city it claims to be, why can’t it successfully host an event involving complex logistics and high-level security challenges? After all, New York, though never having hosted a NATO summit, has the United Nations and hosts world leaders on an almost daily basis without shutting down. And, by the way, the US has twice hosted NATO summits in Washington, DC (1978 & 1999). So, America knows how to host NATO.
I met a NATO-related visitor over the weekend outside a downtown hotel. He said he was suffering jet lag, having just flown in from eastern Europe, but he needed to head to Michigan avenue to buy some additional clothes for the week. He asked me for directions to his favorite store. He was friendly, looking and acting like a typical business traveler. As our brief conversation ended, I wished him well and welcomed him to the city. I never asked his particular political viewpoint, so I don’t know if he was a journalist covering the summit or a protester. I didn’t care to even know. I just wanted to offer the assistance he requested. As we parted ways, to my surprise he said he wanted to apologize for any inconvenience he or his colleagues would be causing the citizens of Chicago. How incredibly cordial! I’m no security expert, and appearances can be misleading, but this friendly visitor hardly seemed a threat to anyone. So why are so many people acting so fearful about the upcoming summit. I’ve heard some people say they are planning to leave the city for the days the summit takes place, those who have the means and option to do so, that is. I certainly concede that terrorism is a reality in the world, here as well as abroad. And I acknowledge that NATO certainly puts Chicago in the world’s line of sight for a few days, even more intensely than usual. But I think the other factor at play with this situation is simply change. Change means the unknown, and many people see change in only a negative manner. But the sometimes discomforting unfamiliar feeling accompanying change also broadens our range of experience and promotes growth. Isn’t change one of the few constants in life?
Chicago has never before hosted such a publicly watched, yet privately attended, event as the 2012 NATO summit. President Obama will be hosting many of the world’s most powerful leaders. NATO, founded in 1949, has its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. According to Wikipedia, NATO uses its summits, as opposed to its more frequent ministerial meetings, to introduce policy, invite new members, launch major initiatives, and to build partnerships with non-NATO countries. Whatever NATO’s particular agenda for this summit may be, I have a hard time believing this summit will be an event those who run this city will regret having hosted. Why not see this event as another opportunity for Chicago to show the world it can be utilized as a great meeting place where people can come together to make history. After all, much earlier in Chicago’s history, we hosted the world in a very successful manner for two world’s fairs (World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893; Century of Progress Exposition of 1933). So, if you are a Chicagoan, let’s all keep some positive energy going about the upcoming summit. Because if we’re only looking for problems, then that’s all we’ll see. If you’re not a resident of Chicago, please wish us well as we welcome this historical event. And, please come visit us for great food, great times, and great people. Because when you arrive, as you’ll see on many signs, we’ll show you that we’re glad you’re here!