Jul 13 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, Politico profiled Senator Thom Tillis’ role as a leader in promoting a strong U.S. foreign policy as he recently led a bipartisan delegation to the NATO Summit in Lithuania. 


“At this week’s NATO summit in Lithuania, Tillis stressed that the U.S. benefits from having like-minded allies, reminding anyone who would listen that NATO’s only invocation of Article 5 — where an attack on one is an attack on all — came after 9/11. Tillis emphasized, again and again, that alliance members saw their citizens die and their governments spend billions to help America decimate al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. 

“But Tillis — who speaks with a southern drawl and listens with a steely stare — is still a practiced politician who gently caveats his support for the alliance by stressing that other countries should be contributing more to their defense and that ongoing support for Ukraine should be under a microscope. 


“Tillis’ appearance at the alliance’s annual gathering — billed as one of NATO’s most historic in its nearly 75-year history — was another testing ground for his message. How he performed might encourage other globally-minded fellow Republicans to follow his playbook.

“Tillis began Tuesday morning by chuckling as he told Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) over breakfast that his hotel room was so dark “you could develop film in it.” Moments later he met behind closed doors with American Gen. Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s military chief, as one of six members in a bipartisan delegation to the summit. That session kicked off a series of chats with the leaders of countries like Germany and the Czech Republic.

“His message to all of them was blunt and straightforward: You can count on Congress to support allies and back Ukraine for as long as it takes — but please spend more on defense to lessen the burden on America. 

“‘We’ve got to be very stern and say, guys, we contribute more than any other. And the fact of the matter is that if the United States wasn’t contributing what it is, Ukraine would be in a very different posture right now. We just want you all to get to something equivalent to about a half of what we spend on national defense. I think that’s a reasonable request,’ Tillis said.

“The senator’s position isn’t entirely new. Presidents from both parties have long pushed NATO allies to invest more in their militaries, both to steel Europe against threats and lessen the reliance on American capabilities. But that old criticism raises hackles today in European capitals, particularly Kyiv, because it suggests that the U.S. wants to minimize its role in Ukraine’s defense. 

“Tillis may not mind that, though, as it was a goal for the congressional delegation at the summit to emphasize America has finite resources and can’t be expected to do it all. He often pushes allies to consider a NATO pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense to be a floor, not a ceiling — a stance fellow Republicans agree with.


“It comes with a bit more weight when Tillis makes the point. He’s the co-chair of the NATO Observer Group, a caucus he reestablished with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in 2018 to inform senators outside defense committees about the spending practices and military plans of allies. That makes him, in a sense, among the most important lawmakers that NATO members must keep happy.

“‘He’s tough but he likes us, so it works,’ said a European official granted anonymity because the individual wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. 


“Even so, Democrats have only good things to say about Tillis’ transatlanticism. 

“‘Thom’s a good Republican, there’s no question about it, but he certainly has an independent streak,’ said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), also a member of the delegation at the summit. ‘His participation in this effort not only gives him a chance to show his own talent, but also helps to make this a bipartisan effort.’ 

“Shaheen, who co-led the congressional sextet with Tillis, called him ‘a great partner.’”