A hallmark of the Trump administration is that it resorts to the “national security” exemption to force trade partners to the negotiating table. Insisting that economic security is national security allows Washington to impose unilateral sanctions that would otherwise be banned by bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. But the United States is using an expansive definition of that term that has virtually no limits; if any job lost is a threat to national security then the exemption has no real meaning. This approach poses a fundamental challenge to the international trade order. Legitimation and embrace of the approach by other countries could bring about its collapse.

The claim that there are circumstances in which national security concerns can trump the preference for free trade makes sense. There are goods and commodities that are essential to national defense and whose supply should be assured or their distribution controlled. Moreover, a strong economy is a critical component to the strength of a nation and its ability to defend itself.

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