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The G20 summit will be hold in my current home city, Hamburg in about a week.

One acquaintance of me asked in my opinion a very good question:

Why exactly are summits hold in big cities at all?

Megacities are absolutely the worst places to hold up security: Too many people and too many places to hide. It inconveniences a great many people (Shops here are boarding their windows fearing riots), it costs a big deal of money and preparations (A whole division of police and special security) and it curbs fundamental rights (freedom of assembly).

So if the heads of state do not want demonstrations before the door, why don't they meet in a secure five-star bunker in an inaccessible region in a neutral country? Some luxurous mountain fortress in the Swiss Alps? I could even understand that the meet in a city because they have the power to do it, but it does not explain why they don't feel bothered by the severe security disadvantages?

In fact many summits were hosted in more remote regions: G8 in Heiligendamm (2007) and the G7 in castle Elmau (2015). Especially the last one is important because essentially nothing happened during the summit. Only a few demonstrations, no riot, no incidents.

Are there any statements of politicians who give more insight why big cities are preferred as meeting points? Prestige? The infrastructure of a city?

ADDENDUM:
Unfortunately the question was right on the spot. Hamburg has been hit by strong riots especially by the black bloc, ultra-left extremists which have burnt cars, demolished and plundered retail stores, build barricades and sought fights with the police. While the members of the G20 were hermetically sealed from the riots (not exactly; some visits desired by the escorts were canceled), the Schanzenviertel itself has been hit hard by riots.
And the whole demonstration prohibition and the gathered amount of police was exactly for naught: Neither did the prohibition prevent the protests nor were the police able to control the riots.

Jan Reinecke of the Bund Deutscher Kriminalbeamter (Alliance of German detectives):

Die Politik trägt die alleinige Verantwortung für die zahlreichen verletzten Polizeibeamten und die Zerstörung in der Stadt. Hamburg hätte niemals Austragungsort des G20-Gipfels sein dürfen. (The politics has the sole responsibility for the many injured policemen and the destruction inside the city. Hamburg should never have been the venue for the G20 summit).

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    Jackson Hole, WY would be a good place for a summit – user4012 Jul 2 '17 at 14:15
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    Yes, infrastructure, and remote places have their own security challenges, I think your concerns about this are a bit overblown. But in fact, nearly all the G8 summits (which have attracted much more attention than G20 summits) since Genoa in 2001 have been organised in resorts and small towns and this comes with its own sets of fundamental rights concerns (it's basically impossible to protest close to the summit). – Relaxed Jul 2 '17 at 15:15
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    Let's not forget the important part: better restaurants and nightclubs for the politicians to get soused at. – tj1000 Jul 2 '17 at 17:40
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    A summit like this is essentially a small town. It is much easier to install a small town in a large town where all the infrastructure already exists than it is to build a small town from nothing in the middle of nowhere. – Jörg W Mittag Jul 2 '17 at 20:39
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    Hamburg's urban area population is actually quite small compared to for example Berlin, London, Paris, New York, etc. – SztupY Jul 3 '17 at 13:26
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Here's some reasons:

  1. Capital/ big cities have the infrastructure to accommodate everyone. "Some luxurious mountain fortress in the Swiss Alps" doesn't have large airports, hotels, etc. to welcome all the world leaders. They also lack key infrastructure, such as medical facilities, emergency services, etc.

    • While it might seem to be safer to hold summits in remote areas, it's not really true since a lot of necessary security equipment and personnel have to be deployed. Large cities already have designated venues designed for large scale events so security measures are easier to implement and they already have the experience in hosting events requiring high level security. They are also better equipped to handle the logistics required.
  2. Also, it's worth noting that summits are a formal diplomacy affair, not an informal meeting or a holiday for world leaders.

  3. It's more convenient for everyone. Summits involve a huge number of staff, reporters, etc. If everyone has to travel to some mountainous area, it's really inconvenient. Also, world leaders who attend the summits usually are assisted by the embassy and its ambassador there. Small cities don't host many embassies.

  4. The hosting countries can also showcase their country to the world as countries usually spend the most effort in developing their largest cities.

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    Good answer, a few more points - world leaders may be traveling with multiple large aircraft, so they have to land at large airports or even local military air bases. On top of that, the principal is the most exposed while in transit - in the Alps, there may be very few, narrow routes to a location, while it would be pointless to e.g. try to set up a roadblock in Hamburg, since authorities would know about it well ahead of time and have plenty of alternate routes. – IllusiveBrian Jul 2 '17 at 15:46
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    @Bregalad Your pride gets in the way of clear thinking, you obviously have no idea what you are talking about. This is not about Switzerland, it's about the difference between being 5 min from a world-class university hospital (which Switzerland has too!) vs. a 15-20 min drive on a winding road from a smaller clinic (even helicopter transport has constraints). Same thing for accommodation, transport, etc. – Relaxed Jul 2 '17 at 16:55
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    @Bregalad: "In Switzerland" is not the same as being handy to the venue. E.g. if you have your conference in Geneva, you're right by a major airport, hotels, and other facilities. Move it to Lausanne or Montreux, and you're maybe an hour by train or car, with only one major route. Go to Gstaad, and you're even further from any airport that can handle large planes. – jamesqf Jul 2 '17 at 18:03
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    @Bregalad the Saanen Airport has a 4593 ft runway. The Jumbo, like the Air Force One needs about 7000 ft on sea level and this is not sea level. – chx Jul 3 '17 at 7:16
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    @Bregalad: You mean Gstaad-Saanen airport? gstaad-airport.ch/en/pilots With a 1400 m runway? When a 747 (e.g. Air Force 1) needs a minimum of 2000 m to land, let alone take off again at that altitude? (Not to get into questions like whether the runway surface is strong enough to take the weight.) "Stars" are not diplomats, and (some) small private jets need a lot less runway than large transport-class aircraft. – jamesqf Jul 3 '17 at 17:24
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Megacities are absolutely the worst places to hold up security: Too many people and too many places to hide.

That's an opinion, not a fact.

I'd be very surprised if it made any practical difference to a determined and trained terrorist group in practice.

For example, the US president will still be traveling in what is essentially a tank dressed up as a car. They'll all be flying in helicopter with a lot of electronic counter-measures and they won't be any more or less vulnerable to a sniper in a world where a sniper kill can happen at over 3km !

It inconveniences a great many people (Shops here are boarding their windows fearing riots),

And on the other hand it brings a great deal of attention to your megacity in a competitive world where advertising is expensive !

As part of being a host is an opportunity to show off and impress other people, it's also seen as an important benefit that you get to do that.

it costs a big deal of money and preparations (A whole division of police and special security)

Showing off to people who have real power is considered an investment.

If it was held in the middle of e.g. a remote desert, it would require just as much preparation (possibly more), and just as much security. But the security would also require it's own logistical support, which would be even more expensive.

and it curbs fundamental rights (freedom of assembly).

If it actually did curb a fundamental right (e.g. one guaranteed without reservation by a constitution) it could be challenged in court in most of the countries involved.

So I'd suggest it does not actually curb any such right. It's only common sense to e.g. limit the right to assemble a large group of hostile protesters in how close they can approach an area containing the targets of their anger.

As some of the groups who protest (and assemble) hate each other it's also quite a good idea to keep them apart.

So these limitations, when used, are simply common sense policing.

So if the heads of state do not want demonstrations before the door, why don't they meet in a secure five-star bunker in an inaccessible region in a neutral country ?

What's a "neutral country" ? It's a myth. Every country contains groups that are hostile to someone else.

Five star bunkers are expensive to build, maintain and secure. And you have to keep them secure all the time, even when they're not in use (which is most of the time).

Some luxurous mountain fortress in the Swiss Alps? I could even understand that the meet in a city because they have the power to do it, but it does not explain why they don't feel bothered by the severe security disadvantages ?

The security disadvantages are not, IMO, as significant as you think.

Also part of the "showing off" is demonstrating your ability to host an event and mount the required security operation. It is, to some extent, an expression of the host country's competence.

In fact many summits were hosted in more remote regions: G8 in Heiligendamm (2007) and the G7 in castle Elmau (2015). Especially the last one is important because essentially nothing happened during the summit. Only a few demonstrations, no riot, no incidents.

At the G8 Heiligendamm event Greenpeace made a half hearted attempt (by terrorist standards it was half hearted) to break security, so it's not exactly a model for security at a remote location. Would an attempt by a more determined suicide squad of terrorists have been more successful ? We'll never know, luckily.

You mention the G7 Castle Elmau event and I'll quote from the article linked to :

Police spokesman Peter Reichl said that the limited infrastructure made the location challenging for security officials.

“It makes it substantially more difficult,” he told NBC News. “Of course we have a tactical advantage that Castle Elmau is difficult to reach, but we also have big logistical problems.”

So the apparent advantages come with significant (and expensive) downsides.

Remote locations can look secure, but you still have to patrol them and that's no where near as secure as it might sound.

Are there any statements of politicians who give more insight why big cities are preferred as meeting points? Prestige? The infrastructure of a city?

None I know of from politicians (but do we really care what they say ? :-) ), but the example above shows that the security people have major concerns and prefer a relatively built up area with good infrastructure to the remote one without it.

I suspect that if the politicians have a major concern it's access to the media. Again this tends to make a built up area with good logistics preferable.

A cynical person (like me) might believe that when they decide to have a summit in a remote location it's specifically to keep the media (and no-one else) away because they're dealing with some issues they consider even more controversial than usual.

An even more cynical person (almost me) might suggest they want to have a subdued media presence because they expect little will be seen to be agreed at them. Remember that summits are the endpoint to announce agreements and policies that government officials have been working on developing and reaching for months, perhaps years. They typically have a pretty good idea what will be the final result well before the actual event, so while my suggestion is a little cynical, it may not be purely cynical.

  • "Remember that summits are the endpoint to announce agreements and policies that government officials have been working on developing and reaching for moths, perhaps years." -- For the Hamburg summit, I (being cynical as well) have the gut feeling that not all attending politicians have prepared for it or even flipped through the agenda. – Hagen von Eitzen Jul 2 '17 at 22:14
  • Just noticed the "moths" typo, and it sounds better that it should. :-) But I did correct it. – StephenG Jul 2 '17 at 22:19
  • One alternative that is currently suggested a lot is using some cruise ships, accompanied by some naval ships (e.g. an aircraft carrier). The protection sounds easy and the logistics do no seem worse than using cruise ships for holiday tours. Do you think that is reasonable? – koalo Jul 3 '17 at 10:37
  • @koalo A cruise ship would be terrible in terms of press coverage. Plus you still have to board the ship, disembark, etc, which actually increases the possibility of incidents as now you have times that can be scheduled for (plus helicopter landings on cruise ships and the like are terrible, and so on). It'd be an even bigger logistical nightmare. – JAB Jul 12 '17 at 15:32
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I'd like to add some political reasons.

Even if you politicians were not to like demonstrations/protests/riots they are part of the democratic dialectic, precisely because of freedom of assembly you cited.

Hence, holding the meeting in a hideout, has several political disadvantages:

  1. It confirms the impression that politician are a snob elite, separated from real world and shielded from protests and unaware/uninterested to the demonstrators (and their supporting organization) points.
  2. It misses a chance to showcase the fact that politics is being made and agreement are (sometimes) being struck. Remember that for each person rioting in the street there is X times more people at home and they don't necessarily side with them. The more remote/quiet the event, the less likely they are to know about it.

  3. Cinically, politicians might want to give people a chance to protest and blow off some steam.

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There are various reasons for selecting a venue. In 2004, the EU Council of Economics and finance ministers was held at Punchestown racecourse, Co. Kildare. Why? Because that was the constituency of Mr. McCreevy, Minister for Finance. Similarly, EU foreign ministers met in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, home of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Cowen.

This sort of thing makes sense, and are a way of showing off the country. For more important summits, more lavish venues, such as Dublin Castle (home to the State Apartments), make sense.

  • Hamburg indeed held special significance to Merkel, as she was born there. – MSalters Jul 12 '17 at 14:23
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You need to reconsider your thoughts on security.

The defenders in a city have complete control of all avenues of access to the protected persons. Manhole covers can be welded shut, streets can be cordoned off, snipers (and more if necessary) can be on the rooftops offering both intelligence and cover fire. You can park a van full of armed and armoured people nearby, mostly invisible to everyone and move them to any place where funny business happens in a matter of seconds since the streets are all yours.

On a mountaintop, the attackers have significant advantage: anyone with rock climbing gear and skill can pop up from practically anywhere. The defenders have no towers to view and cover from (helicopters are not always a possibility) and moving people to and away from any flashpoint might be challenging since roads are not guaranteed to exist or be usable.

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    You are mixing 2 things. Apparently you assume cities are always in plains and that countryside is always in mountains. Both of your assumptions are wrong - cities in mountains exists, just as countryside in plains exists as well. Also the OP asks why summits are held in big cities, it could be as opposed to smaller towns (where your control of street would be identical to huge cities), not necessary countryside. – Bregalad Jul 3 '17 at 12:39

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