Hawaii remains the sole U.S. state excluded from NATO defense agreement

Sweden joined NATO earlier this month, becoming the latest addition to the security alliance that includes 31 nations, including the United States.

Only one state is an exception to the rule: 49 out of the 50 United States.

Hawaii, due to a unique combination of geography and historical factors, is not technically included in the NATO pact.

If Hawaii were to come under attack from a foreign power, such as an assault on the U.S. Navy’s base at Pearl Harbor or the headquarters of the Indo-Pacific Command in Honolulu, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would not be required to come to the defense of the Aloha State.

David Santoro, president of the Pacific Forum think tank in Honolulu, finds it quite peculiar that many people, including most Hawaii residents, are unaware that their state is actually not officially part of the alliance.

According to him, there is a common misconception that Hawaii is included in the United States and therefore falls under the protection of NATO.

But, he admits, the clue lies in the name of the alliance – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Hawaii, situated in the Pacific Ocean, stands out from other states like California, Colorado, or Alaska. Unlike these states, Hawaii is not connected to the continental U.S. and does not extend to the North Atlantic Ocean on its eastern shores.

According to Santoro, the reason for excluding Hawaii is simply because it is not considered part of North America.

The Washington Treaty, which was signed in 1949 to establish NATO, clearly states the exception. It is important to note that this occurred a decade before Hawaii achieved statehood.

Article 5 of the treaty allows for collective self-defense if any member state faces a military attack. However, Article 6 restricts the geographical extent of this provision.

According to Article 6, if one or more of the Parties is subjected to an armed attack, it will be considered as an attack on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America. Furthermore, this provision applies to island territories located in the North Atlantic and north of the Tropic of Cancer.

According to a spokesperson from the U.S. State Department, Hawaii is not included in Article 5. However, they mentioned that Article 4, which states that members will consult when there is a threat to the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any member, should apply to any situation that could impact Hawaii, the 50th state.

According to the spokesperson, it is highly unlikely that any treaty amendment to include Hawaii would gain consensus. The reason for this is that other members of the treaty have territories that are outside the boundaries specified in Article 5.

During the 1982 war between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, NATO refrained from joining the conflict despite being a founding member. The Falkland Islands, which were invaded by Argentine troops, were a disputed British territory located in the South Atlantic.

NATO has yet to provide a response to CNN’s request for comment.

Hawaii, Guam, Taiwan and North Korea

According to some experts, the signing of the Washington Treaty may have been influenced by different circumstances compared to the current political situation in the Indo-Pacific. They suggest that it might be necessary to reconsider our approach in light of these changes.

U.S. military bases in Hawaii may have a significant impact in countering North Korean aggression and providing support for the defense of Taiwan.

China’s ruling Communist Party asserts its territorial claim over Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island it has never controlled. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has prioritized the goal of “reunification” with Taiwan as a crucial step towards revitalizing the nation by 2049.

Chinese leaders have expressed their desire to gain control of the island through peaceful means, but they have not dismissed the possibility of using force if necessary. In recent years, they have increased military intimidation towards the island.

The United States is bound by the Taiwan Relations Act to supply weapons for the defense of the island. President Joe Biden has indicated that he would deploy U.S. military personnel to protect Taiwan if it were to face an invasion from China. However, the White House has clarified that the U.S. policy regarding this matter remains intentionally ambiguous.

In a recent war-game scenario conducted by the Center for a New American Security, it was envisioned that China would launch an attack on U.S. command and control installations in Hawaii as part of its military campaign to forcibly seize Taiwan. The simulation took place in 2022 and highlighted the potential vulnerabilities in the U.S. military’s infrastructure and defense strategy.

According to John Hemmings, the senior director of the Indo-Pacific Foreign and Security Policy Program at the Pacific Forum, Hawaii’s absence from NATO eliminates a crucial deterrent factor in the event of a Chinese attack on Hawaii in support of a potential Taiwan campaign.

According to experts, excluding Hawaii from NATO’s defense obligations sends a clear message to Beijing. It shows that the European members of the alliance have some flexibility when it comes to protecting U.S. territory. This move provides them with a potential “escape clause” in the event of a hypothetical situation.

“Why wouldn’t we utilize that element of deterrence?” Hemmings asks. “Why would we exclude it if it could effectively prevent China from invading Taiwan?”

Hawaii holds a significant historical importance for the United States due to its strategic position.

“This is the location where Pearl Harbor witnessed the catastrophic attack that propelled us into the Second World War,” Hemmings explains. “Moreover, it was this very event that spurred our involvement in liberating France.”

Americans have a direct connection between this state and their participation in the Second World War, which ultimately contributed to the victory over the Axis (the alliance of Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy).

According to Hemmings, Guam, a U.S. Pacific island territory located 3,000 miles west of Hawaii, should be considered for inclusion in NATO’s umbrella.

The island, known for its historical significance in North Korean confrontations, hosts Andersen Air Force Base, which serves as a launchpad for U.S. B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers spanning the Indo-Pacific region.

Hemmings compares Guam’s exclusion from NATO to the situation when the U.S. left the Korean Peninsula outside of a line it drew across the Pacific in an effort to prevent the spread of communism by the Soviet Union and China. Interestingly, just five months after the establishment of this Acheson Line, the Korean War erupted.

According to Hemmings, when the adversary becomes more confident and willing to engage in military conflict, the likelihood of a war breaking out increases.

According to Santoro from the Pacific Forum, Guam should be incorporated into the NATO framework, as it holds greater strategic significance compared to Hawaii.

‘Coalition of the willing’

Luis Simon, a director of the Research Centre for Security, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Brussels School of Governance in Belgium, predicts that if an attack were to occur, the United States would likely form a coalition of the willing. This coalition would primarily consist of regional allies, although it could also include other nations.

Simon highlights the swift and robust reaction of the alliance following the 9/11 attacks, which remains to be the sole instance in NATO’s 74-year existence where the collective self-defense provision under Article 5 was invoked.

According to the expert, Washington made a deliberate decision to coordinate its response through a coalition of willing nations instead of relying on NATO Command. He believes that if Guam or Hawaii were to come under attack, the United States would likely adopt a similar approach, aiming to maintain complete military control over the response and retain diplomatic flexibility.

According to Simon, he believes that there is no significant difference between NATO members and their dedication to the United States and the alliance.

NATO plays a crucial role in the transatlantic democratic community. The alliance, including the United States, has emphasized the unprecedented unity in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, NATO has taken a stronger stance against China, recognizing the systemic challenges it presents.

According to him, there is no doubt that they would be prepared to offer various types of support if there was an attack on US soil. This assistance could be provided both individually and through international organizations such as the European Union or NATO.

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MBS Staff
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