Three ships, part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, have been deployed to the East African coast to assist anti-piracy efforts by the European Union, NATO and the UN.
In late October, the British, Greek and Italian ships began escorting merchant vessels carrying World Food Programme cargo bound for Somalia. Dozens of ships have been intercepted and attacked by pirates off the Somali coast this year; the European Union is working on deploying its own maritime security mission to the region later in 2008.
NATO is also set to take a more active counter-narcotics stance in Afghanistan. Based on a request by the Afghan government, the defense ministers agreed in Budapest to examine ways in which Alliance members may redouble their efforts against narcotics “facilities and facilitators” which support insurgency in Afghanistan.
The informal defense ministerial in Budapest saw the first meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission , ostensibly an important antecedent to the next meeting of Alliance foreign ministers in December 2008, when discussion of Membership Action Plan-status for Georgia will figure prominently on the agenda.
One highlight in Budapest, especially for the Hungarian hosts, was a ceremony marking yet another milestone in the C-17 / Strategic Airlift Capability program of the Alliance. Speaking at the event, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and U.S. Secretary of Defense joined Hungarian Minister of Defense Imre Szekeres, agreeing that the October signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by twelve participating countries brings the project close to realization. The three C-17 aircraft will be based in Pápa, western Hungary.
The October 9-10 event was the second ministerial meeting hosted by Budapest since Hungary joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999: in 2001, foreign ministers representing the nineteen member nations comprising the Alliance then met in Budapest.
Pictured, left to right: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Hungarian Minister of Defense Imre Szekeres and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.