It doesn’t have to be North Korea. Russia, Iran, or even China could attack Hawaii and not necessarily have to take on all of NATO. Article V of the Washington Treaty, the foundational document of the 29-member alliance, outlines the collective defense triggers of the member states, but doesn’t just list the member states as a whole. The fine print, as it turns out, has one glaring omission.
Basically, if Japan ever wanted to go for round two, NATO would not have to come help the United States.
Aloha. But also, Aloha. Sorry.
The text of the treaty specifically delineates parts of the world that bind members to collective defense doesn’t cover those actual parts of the world. That portion of the treaty is covered in Article VI, which states “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 2, on the territory of Turkey or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;
•on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.”
Which leaves out one thing: Hawaii.
When NATO was first formed in 1949, Alaska and Hawaii were still ten years away from gaining statehood. When the two territories became states in 1959, Alaska was covered by the NATO agreements, Hawaii was not. When the error was first raised in the public eye in 1965, the U.S. State Department dismissed the notion as a technicality.
“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,” Assistant Secretary of State Douglas MacArthur II told reporters. “In that event, the consultation and/or collective defensive provisions of the North Atlantic Treat would apply.”
But that sort of thinking didn’t materialize for Great Britain, which considers the Falkland Islands to be very much a part of its sovereign territory. When Argentina invaded the islands in 1982, NATO support didn’t materialize, and the United Kingdom swooped in unilaterally to take the islands back.
This doesn’t mean that NATO countries can’t get involved in defending a NATO member from an attack by another country but it does mean that Chinese bombers can rain death on Honolulu and as long they don’t hit military targets, NATO can stop at sending thoughts and prayers.