By DON MELVIN
SIAULIAI AIR BASE, Lithuania (AP) — Two F-4 Phantom jet fighters under NATO control streaked off the runway at a former Soviet air base in Lithuania this week in response to a report that an aircraft had lost communications as it neared Finnish airspace.
It was all an exercise — a simulation — but one with a point beyond mere rehearsal: NATO officials hope that, at a summit in Chicago this May, member nations will put aside concerns over sovereignty and agree in principle to create joint defense capabilities.
The idea is that, in a time of dwindling defense budgets, it makes sense to have coordinated programs in which specific countries agree to buy certain weapons systems — and forgo others — to create a coherent whole.
The economic arguments are strong. Twenty of NATO’s 28 member countries cut their defense budgets between 2008 and 2011. And greater military integration in Europe would be of a piece with the greater economic integration that is emerging as a response to the continent’s financial crisis.
But defense is a closely guarded national prerogative, and the outcome is far from certain. A NATO official said earlier this week that no specifics would emerge from the summit in Chicago.
Instead, he said, NATO officials hope for a “public declaration of how far we’re prepared to go as an alliance.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because of NATO rules.
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