Nations and Markets

27 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2020

See all articles by Harlan Grant Cohen

Harlan Grant Cohen

Fordham Law School; University of Georgia School of Law; University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center

Date Written: September 9, 2020


Economics and security seem increasingly intertwined. Citing national security, states subject foreign investments to new scrutiny, even unwinding mergers like the purchase of Grindr or the creation of TikTok. The provision of 5G has become a diplomatic battleground – Huawei at its center. Meanwhile, states invoke national security to excuse trade wars. The U.S. invoked the GATT national security exception to impose steel and aluminum tariffs, threatening more on automotive parts. Russia invoked that provision to justify its blockade of Ukraine, as did Saudi Arabia and the UAE to excuse theirs of Qatar. And with the spread of COVID-19, states are invoking national security to scrutinize supply lines. Multiplying daily, such stories lead some observers to dub the era one of geoeconomics.

Nonetheless, these developments remain difficult to judge and the relationship between economics and national security confused and slippery. Neither term is self-defining, and the same activities can be defined as either or both. The essay seeks clarity in the deeper logic of these labels, revealing a fundamental choice between the logics of markets and of state. Whether invoked to “secure” borders, privacy, health, the environment, or jobs, “national security” is a claim about the proper location of policymaking. Appeals to economics, with their emphasis on global welfare and global person-to-person relationships, are as well. The logics driving the current economics-national security dynamic represent paradigmatic, competing models for organizing individuals with different normative justifications and concerns. Resolving disputes, this essay argues, requires recognizing these root choices.

Keywords: national security, economics, internatinal trade, international law, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, TikTok, World Trade Organization

JEL Classification: F13, F18, F52, F53, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Harlan Grant, Nations and Markets (September 9, 2020). Journal of International Economic Law (Forthcoming), University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-24, Available at SSRN:

Harlan Grant Cohen (Contact Author)

Fordham Law School ( email )

150 West 62 Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

Hirsch Hall
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-5166 (Phone)

University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center ( email )

100 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602-6018
United States

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