The NATO’s Greatest Weakness May Be The Non-Inclusion Of Hawaii


Sweden became the newest member of the security alliance earlier this month, joining the US and 31 other nations. That makes 49 of the 50 states that make up the union. Hawaii is not formally a member of NATO due to a peculiarity in geography and history.

Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would not have to defend Hawaii against an attack by a foreign force, such as an attack on the US Navy’s Pearl Harbor base or the Indo-Pacific Command headquarters located northwest of Honolulu.

David Santoro, head of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum research tank, says, “It’s the weirdest thing.” He adds that the majority of Hawaii residents are ignorant of their state’s formal independence from the alliance.

He asserts that NATO defends Hawaii because people frequently think of it as a part of the US. He does concede, though, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the alliance’s name, is a dead giveaway. Hawaii, of course, is in the Pacific, not in the continental US, unlike California, Colorado, or Alaska, which border the North Atlantic Ocean on their eastern shores. Aloha is the fifty-first state.

“Hawaii is not a part of North America, so that’s the argument for not including it,” says Santoro. Hawaii was an exception, as detailed in the 1949 Washington Treaty, which established NATO ten years before Hawaii’s statehood.

Even while Article 5 of the treaty permits collective self-defense in the case of a military assault on any member state, Article 6 of the treaty limits the geographical extent of this right. According to Article 6, any armed attack on a Party’s territory in North America or Europe qualifies as an armed attack on one or more of the Parties. It further stipulates that any island territories must be in the North Atlantic, north of the Tropic of Cancer.

A US State Department spokesman claims that Article 5 does not apply to Hawaii, but Article 4 should apply to any situation that could affect the 50th state because it stipulates that members will confer when “the territorial integrity, political independence or security” of any member is threatened.

The spokesman went on to say that it is doubtful that a treaty modification including Hawaii would be accepted by consensus because other members have land that is not within the parameters set forth in Article 5.

For instance, in 1982, despite the fact that the United Kingdom was one of NATO’s founding members, NATO chose not to intervene in the conflict with Argentina when Argentine troops invaded the Falkland Islands, a disputed British territory in the South Atlantic.

Hawaii, Guam, Taiwan, And North Korea

Some commentators argue that the political environment in the Indo-Pacific region may necessitate reassessment, citing changes in circumstances in the decades after the signing of the Washington Treaty.

This is because it’s possible that US military bases in Hawaii will play a crucial role in preventing North Korean aggression and supporting Taiwan’s defense efforts in the future. China’s ruling Communist Party claims territory over the democratic island even though it has never controlled it. A key element of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grander scheme to “rejuvenate” the nation by 2049 is “reunification” with Taiwan.

In recent years, Chinese leaders have escalated military intimidation of the region and have not ruled out using force to acquire the island, despite their stated willingness to do so peacefully.

White House sources say that while US President Joe Biden has stated that US military personnel would defend the island against a Chinese attack, US policy is unchanged. Washington is required by the Taiwan Relations Act to supply armaments for the island’s defense.

In a 2022 simulation run by the Center for a New American Security, China targeted US command and control centers in Hawaii as part of its attempt to conquer Taiwan. John Hemmings, senior director of the Pacific Forum’s Indo-Pacific Foreign and Security Policy Program, claims that Hawaii’s exit from NATO removes “an element of deterrence” over the possibility of a Chinese strike on Hawaii in support of a future Taiwan campaign.

He says the exclusion of Hawaii indicates to Beijing that the European members of NATO may have a small “escape clause” in case they need to defend US territory in a hypothetical situation. “Why wouldn’t we use that deterrent element available to us?” Hemmings responds. If that would actually stop (China) from invading Taiwan, why would we leave it out of the conversation?

Hawaii’s strategic importance has significant historical ramifications for the US. This is where Pearl Harbor is located. This is the site of the attack that precipitated our involvement in the Second World War and, coincidentally, the reason we helped liberate France,” the speaker claims.

“There is a clear connection for Americans between this state, our participation in World War II, and ultimately our assistance in aiding in the defeat of the Axis (the coalition of Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy).”

Furthermore, Hemmings makes the case for NATO membership for Guam, a US Pacific island nation around 3,000 miles west of Hawaii. Situated on the island, which has long been a hotbed of North Korean bellicose rhetoric, is Andersen Air Force Base. The US may launch its B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers into the Indo-Pacific from this location.

The US withdrew its line across the Pacific in January 1950 to try to block China and the Soviet Union from spreading communism, and Hemmings equates Guam’s exclusion from NATO to that action. Five months after the so-called Acheson Line was drawn, the Korean War broke out.

Hemmings said, “The enemy feels emboldened to carry out military conflict and you end up having a war anyway.” NATO should include Guam, according to Santoro of the Pacific Forum. He says, “Guam matters a lot more strategically than Hawaii.”

Collaboration Of Those Who Are Willing

In the event of a hypothetical attack on Hawaii or Guam, some academics argue that the long-lasting and robust ties between the United States and its democratic allies would have a considerably bigger impact on national decision-making than a technicality in the NATO treaty.

In Belgium, Luis Simon, director of the Research Center for Security, Diplomacy, and Strategy at the Brussels School of Governance, stated that in the event of an attack, “I would expect… the United States to try to put together a coalition of the willing involving primarily – but certainly not exclusively – regional allies”.

Simon notes that in the 74 years of its existence, NATO has only once—during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks—activated the collective self-defense mechanism under Article 5. This was a prompt and decisive answer. He continues, “But Washington really decided to use a coalition of the willing to direct its response rather than NATO Command.” “I think the US would want to maintain complete military control over (the response) and diplomatic flexibility in the event of an attack on either Guam or Hawaii.”

Simon continues, “I don’t think there’s any real difference between NATO countries being loyal to the US and the alliance.” NATO is the cornerstone of the transatlantic democratic community. The US and other NATO members have commended the alliance for their unprecedented solidarity in the face of Russia’s surprise invasion of Ukraine. NATO has also been increasingly vocal in recent years about its shared narrative toward China, committing to address what they term Beijing’s “systemic challenges.”

“I personally have little doubt they would be ready to provide different forms of assistance, including individually and through multilateral venues like the (European Union) or NATO,” the guy stated, in the case of an attack on US sovereign soil.