This morning, Barack Obama landed in the Netherlands, where he has come to spend a lot of time grimacing at and talking to world leaders and foreign ministers about nuclear weapons, but will probably end up getting side tracked in crisis talks about the situation in Crimea. The result is that large parts of my country look something like the border between North and South Korea, with heavy security measures in place to keep the American President from harm.
One of the country's main highways has been closed completely, so for most people commuting between The Hague (where the political summit is being held) and Amsterdam, this is a day off. Three naval vessels guard the coastline and two fighter jets are continuously flying overhead. Several premier division football matches were cancelled this weekend and the people who live close to the Rijksmuseum that Obama is visiting are not allowed to open their windows, because the square they live on is now a helicopter landing site. A huge wall has been erected around it to block the view from higher buildings.
To put this all into perspective: Our own Prime Minister travels around by bike.
The use of cameras is forbidden anywhere in the entire district where the airport is. I decided to test how robust the security is by taking a shot of this flower. Sure enough, a nearby policeman came over and told me off. I smiled sweetly and he decided to let me go with my illegal picture intact – a shocking display of negligence.
However, the country is yet to be totally transformed into a police state. Holland wouldn't be Holland without a few liberal perks, so when announcing a list of rules for the summit, the Ministry of Justice decided to point out the fact that “there is no common law against the burning of flags”. Nice to know, but we are still waiting for the first flag-burning rebels to show themselves.
I went into Amsterdam with some friends to watch the President's arrival. The sight of seven choppers landing in the city – including Obama's Marine One – certainly made for a greater spectacle than my regular commute. The police didn't seem too bothered about catching errant motorists or cyclists who were biking on the wrong side of the road today.
Obama's helicopter lands at the Rijksmuseum. After getting out of his helicopter, he got into his armoured car, "the Beast", for the last 75 metres.
For all the fuss about the President touching down on European soil, the leaders weren't just here to talk about Crimea. A meeting billed as a Nuclear Security Summit was planned long before Putin decided to send his troops into the region, and the Dutch Prime Minister is insisting that the nuke summit won't be overshadowed by Crimea.
The Nuclear Security Summit's origins are found in one of Obama's 2008 campaign promises. Basically put, the goal of these summits is to try to ensure that nuclear material doesn't make its way into the hands of terrorists or other regimes that are hostile to the West. Somewhere near the bottom of the agenda is a discussion about whether there’s a chance of a future without nuclear weapons.
That said, Obama's efforts are not without results. Today, it was announced that Japan will hand over 700 pounds of weapon-grade plutonium and another pile of highly enriched uranium to the US. Thirteen countries have given up their stockpiles since the summits began and other nations have improved security at storage facilities. In the case of Japan, it will lessen the ease with which any future government can manufacture nuclear weapons if it ever wanted to do so. Japan will hang on to large parts of its other nuclear material however, because despite the Fukushima meltdown, Japan still sees a future for nuclear energy.
For years, Japan’s plutonium was “less well protected than many banks”, according to a New York Times report. Maybe these Americans have the right idea about security after all, and maybe that’s why nobody has burned any flags yet.