Trade Multilateralism and U.S. National Security: The Making of the GATT Security Exceptions

Today, there are an unprecedented number of disputes at the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) involving national security. The dramatic rise in trade disputes involving national security has resuscitated debate over the degree of discretion afforded to WTO Members as to when and how to invoke Article XXI, the Security Exception, of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (“GATT”), with binding effect. The goal of this article is to shed light on contemporary questions and concerns involving national security and international trade, particularly questions involving the appropriate invocation of Article XXI GATT, through careful attention to the article’s historical context. The article elucidates the diverse strategic and economic considerations that shaped the meaning of U.S. national security interests at the time when national delegations were drafting the post-war multilateral trade system, the ITO. It demonstrates how these interests, in turn, created the language, phrasing, and placement of the security exception within the ITO Charter, and details when and how this was adopted in the GATT. This article argues that analyzing internal U.S. practice into the making of Article XXI is relevant for current and future efforts to interpret the exception, thereby contributing to existing literature on Article XXI GATT. It provides the internal deliberations of U.S. officials who served as key architects of the multilateral trade system and of the ITO Charter’s security exception. Additionally, the article captures a fascinating story as to how different U.S. agencies competed to define U.S. foreign and economic policies at the time and shows how the compromises struck help to explain the making of article XXI GATT.