As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is important to reflect on the overwhelmingly positive force the alliance has been, not just in the North Atlantic but also for those of us in the Pacific.

Since its inception in 1949, NATO has served as one of the most valuable strategic alliances in the world. The alliance has offered capability development, security consulting, and intelligence sharing that are vital for member nations and international partners. While NATO has proven itself capable of responding to threats near and abroad, those living in the Pacific have become increasingly worried about the exclusionary language in the NATO charter.

Written 75 years ago, the NATO charter predates most of the US Pacific region’s inclusion policy. Almost a year after the ratification of NATO, Guamanians gained their own civilian government and were granted US citizenship. Nine years after that, Hawaii became the fiftieth State in the union. In this historical context, NATO unfortunately excluded all of the U.S. territories and states in Oceania.

While NATO has largely existed in a peace-preserving capacity, Article 5 of NATO guarantees collective self-defense if a member nation is attacked. The benefits of Article 5 are numerous, but the deterrence-based safety it provides to covered territories makes it strong. Article 6, however, clarifies that an Article 5 invocation can only occur on member territories in the region of Europe and North America.

Despite this, those living in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands should not worry about this minor technicality. Many members of the media have purported the lie of Pacific security isolation from our allies in Europe. Coinciding with the U.S. National Security Strategy, NATO’s most recent Strategic Concept outlines the hybrid and cyber threat the People’s Republic of China (PRC) poses to regional allies and the global community. NATO doctrine explicitly states the PRC directly challenges the alliances’ “interests, security, and values”.

This challenge is not lost on NATO leadership, and members continue to build the strategy to counter the irregular threat the PRC poses. Member states aside, NATO’s work with Pacific partners like Japan, the Republic of Korea, The Republic of the Philippines, and Australia demonstrates that the regional aspect of the charter does not equate to geographical ambivalence.

North Atlantic security is deeply connected to the security of the Indo-Pacific. As the largest contributor to NATO, the US and its security missions will always have a substantial role in creating NATO strategy. Accordingly, the US’ active role in the region means that Guam and Hawaii will remain at the forefront of NATO influence in the area. As a security alliance, NATO’s relationship with the US Department of Defense is firm.

NATO and the Pacific

With that said, it is foolish to assume the Hawaiian-based US INDOPACOM and the Guam-based Joint Regions Marianas would be abandoned because they ‘fall out of NATO’s purview’. Regardless of state actors, to claim that NATO would ignore the security challenges in the Pacific is disingenuous. With the proliferation of transnational security threats, NATO has taken an active role in creating a more secure world- regardless of region. For both terrorist and criminal threats, NATO has historically come to the aid of territories outside of their established range.

Regardless of certain commentators’ interpretation of Article 5, member states have individually committed to US and regional Pacific security. In 2017, the Minister of State of the U.K. for Europe and North America Alan Duncan stated, “In such a case [attack on Guam or Hawaii], either the consultation provisions of Article 4 or the collective defence provisions of Article 5 would plainly apply, and ... determine the response of the Alliance”.

More recently, the U.S. has collaborated with European nations in a variety of military exercises such as Pitch Black in 2022 and a U.S .– European Union joint Naval Exercise in 2023. Additionally, a joint air force exercise is scheduled for the summer of 2024 that will demonstrate French, German, and Spanish militaries’ effectiveness and commitment to the Pacific region.

The welcome additions of Sweden and Finland to the NATO alliance have stirred up many conversations, but to say that NATO will abandon Pacific territories and allies is a serious and dangerous misconception. The Article 5 collective self-defense guarantee may not apply to Oceania, but it certainly applies to the U.S. In this we are unified. Should Hawaii, Guam, or other U.S. Pacific Island territories be attacked, NATO members would uphold the trust the U.S. has placed with them.

To be clear, Article 5 has only been enacted once, and it was in the defense of the U.S. on Sept. 11th, 2001. Based on this, a similar or worse attack in the Indo-Pacific would be met with the same level of response.

Rep. James Moylan is the delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives for Guam.

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