NATO Loophole: Attack on Hawaii Not Covered by Treaty


For 40 minutes on Saturday, the Hawaiian Islands were plunged into confusion by a genius working with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who clicked through a redundancy window and sent out a mass text warning informing residents of the 50th state that they were going to get hit by a missile in short order.

No missile attack took place, of course. Now, the dullard who precipitated the whole kerfuffle is being reassigned, although he’ll still somehow still retain a job. God bless government unions.

However, especially with tensions with North Korea at a relative high and the Kim Jong Un regime developing newer ICBMs, the text warning got many thinking about what would happen if a missile attack were to befall the Hawaiian Islands. Surely it would trigger a colossal response from both the United States and its NATO allies, right?

Well, the United States, sure. NATO, though? Not exactly.

In fact, due to an odd loophole in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s charter, an attack on Hawaii wouldn’t be covered under contingencies that would necessitate an automatic reaction from the other 28 members of the group.

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How can that be? After all, Article 5 of the treaty was pretty explicit:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Pretty cut and dry, right? However, a loophole in Article 6 leaves Hawaii dangerously exposed:

For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack … on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France, on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.

Do you think Hawaii is at risk of attack by North Korea?

Therein lies the problem: Hawaii is in the Pacific Ocean, just a few degrees south of the Tropic of Cancer. Back when the NATO Charter was signed in 1949, Hawaii was 10 years away from becoming a state, but it was still a major strategic asset for the military. So, why the loophole?

In a 1965 Chicago Tribune article on the odd discrepancy (which was more concerned with “Red China” bombing Pearl Harbor), it was said “(t)he Senate foreign relations committee, in recommending approvalof the NATO treaty in 1949, emphasized that the mandatory collective defense provision of the treaty ‘would not apply to any of the overseas territories outside of the north Atlantic area as described in article 8.'”

Keep in mind that this was during a time where a) Hawaii was still just an overseas territory as opposed to a state and b) NATO signatories had significantly more overseas colonial possessions.

At the time, American officials said they didn’t think the loophole would make any difference.

“Far from being dismayed, American officials have dismissed the matter as insignificant, from either a military or political standpoint,” the Tribune reported.

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“They wish the defense of the mighty fortress in the mid-Pacific were the most pressing problem besetting the NATO partners.”

“It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any attack against the United States, whether directed at Hawaii or another state, which would not be part of a major war,” then-Assistant Secretary of State Douglas MacArthur II said, adding that in such a war “the consultation and/or collective defensive provisions of the north Atlantic treaty would apply.”

The same rubric likely applies today; were North Korea to launch a missile at Hawaii, whether Article 6 protected the archipelago under the treaty would likely be entirely irrelevant. It wouldn’t take long for Kim’s wretched state to be reduced to rubble (well, more than it already has been at the hands of the Juche regime, anyhow).

Thus, Hawaii likely has more reason to be worried about incompetent HI-EMA employees sending out false doomsday text messages than not receiving NATO support should it be attacked by Kim Jong Un’s regime. However, even if the question of Article 6 is mostly academic, it’s certainly a strange bit of trivia buried in the NATO charter.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture