Fact Check

Hawaii Isn't Covered by NATO Defense Pact?

The state falls just outside the borders of treaty, internet users said.

Published May 13, 2024

Image courtesy of Snopes/mapchart.net
The U.S. state of Hawaii is not covered by the NATO defense pact.

While Hawaii is technically excluded from the North Atlantic Treat Organization because it is not located around the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean or north of the Tropic of Cancer, it is likely that NATO member countries would still rise to defend the U.S. should an attack occur on Hawaii.

In March and April 2024, claims circulated that the U.S. state of Hawaii was left out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including on Reddit: 

The claim appeared on X as well, shared by U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky who advocated for the entire country to leave NATO:

Massie's post had garnered more than 232,000 views, 1,200 shares and 7,400 likes, as of this writing.

NATO History

NATO came into existence at the beginning of the Cold War, when Western European countries and the United States felt the need to join forces against the Soviet Union. Twelve countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States) joined at the time. In 1952, Greece and Turkey followed suit, and three years later Germany joined. In 1982, NATO added Spain to the fold.

The year 1999 marked the beginning of another wave of expansion as Eastern European countries, which had become independent after the collapse of the eastern bloc, applied to join NATO. In 2024, NATO ratified the accession of Sweden, bringing the number of member countries to 32.

As of this writing, there were three countries that aspired to join NATO: Ukraine, Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Article 5 of the treaty states that an attack on one of the member countries is an attack on them all (emphasis ours):

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.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

If one of the member countries triggers Article 5, the others agree to come to its aid against the attacker.

But Article 6 sets limits to the territory covered by the treaty (emphasis ours):

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 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.

Hawaii's Status

Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959, 10 years after the U.S. ratified the North Atlantic Treaty. Its geographical location — in the Pacific — excluded it from the territory delineated in Article 6. Alaska, which became a state the same year as Hawaii, might've fallen out of the treaty's borders if it hadn't been located north of the Tropic of Cancer, unlike Hawaii:

(Google Earth)

As such, Hawaii is technically excluded from the treaty. However, in a 2019 interview, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg replied that if Hawaii came under attack, the organization would probably treat it as it would an attack of the contiguous United States:

If one Ally is attacked, and Hawaii is part of the United States which is part of NATO, then Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states clearly that that should be regarded as an attack on us all and we can trigger Article 5. So, that's in a way the answer to that.  

He went on to add that NATO is, above all, a political alliance, and the member countries would respond accordingly:

This is about a political commitment that we are standing up for each other and just to have the idea that one Ally should be attacked and then we not reacting will undermine the credibility of the whole of NATO.

A provision in the Treaty also makes this possible. Article 4 reads:

The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.

Article 4 is the guarantee that each attack will be examined on its own merits.

It is also worth noting that the U.S. has a special place within NATO because the country provides, on its own, two-thirds of the organization's funding. As such, it seems unlikely the other members would say no to helping in an attack against a U.S. state, regardless of its location. 

Still, there is a precedent for NATO refusing to respond to an attack on one of its member countries when the attack concerned a territory outside of the treaty's limits. In 1982, Argentina's forces invaded the Falkland Islands — disputed British islands off the coast of Argentina. During this episode, the U.K. was left alone to defend its territory.

There are other territories belonging to NATO member countries that fall outside the borders of Article 6, besides Hawaii and the Falklands. They include many islands of the Caribbean (such as Puerto Rico), as well as French Guiana, French Polynesia, Guantánamo Bay, Guam, the Marianas and Samoa.

Regardless, changing the language of the treaty would require consensus among the 32 members. 

Shifting Focus?

Some experts have argued that the center of gravity for geopolitics has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, China and North Korea represent a bigger threat to the U.S. and the West at large, the experts say. China has set its sights on Taiwan, and North Korea's nuclear program has created concern among Western democracies. In case of conflict, the U.S. would be better placed to respond from Hawaii. Including Hawaii in NATO would send a strong message of deterrence to both countries, security specialists have said.


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Anna Rascouët-Paz is based in Brooklyn, fluent in numerous languages and specializes in science and economic topics.