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Volume 42, Issue 5

National Security and Economic Globalization: Toward Collision or Reconciliation?

There is understandable anxiety today that the Trump administration’s national-security policies are pushing the world trading system to the brink of collapse. The administration has drawn widespread condemnation by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum in the name of national security, and it is now threatening similar measures with respect to automobiles. These measures are consistent with the Trump administration’s broader governing strategy, which has embraced national security as a lever to obtain preferred policies on a range of issues from trade to immigration. It is therefore not surprising that much of the recent commentary on trade and security has focused on curbing abusive and overbroad invocations of national security by the executive branch. Other commentators, looking beyond the immediate threat of the Trump administration, have focused on the rise of China as an economic and geostrategic competitor, predicting an even more far-reaching transformation of the trade-security relationship.

Without diminishing either of these challenges, I argue that the national-security threat to the global economic order is both broader than the US-China trade conflict and more intractable than the Trump administration. Trump’s actions on trade reflect the increasing entanglement between national security policy and “ordinary” economic regulation—an entanglement that both predates and will outlast his administration and that extends farther than just the United States. This entanglement stems from a dramatic series of shifts in national security policy since the 1990s, such that security measures overlap with trade and investment rules in an ever-widening range of circumstances. Moreover, not all of these new security policies bear the hallmarks of abuse and overreach that characterize the Trump administration. It is unclear whether our international economic institutions have the legal tools, the capacity, or the legitimacy to address this growing body of novel—but not necessarily abusive— national security aims.

In this brief contribution, I will sketch these critical claims, which are defended more comprehensively in a forthcoming piece.

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Recommended Citation:

J. Benton Heath, National Security and Economic Globalization: Toward Collision or Reconciliation?, 42 Fordham Int'l L.J. 1431 (2019). 
Available at: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol42/iss5/4