Russia’s WTO Win Sets Precedent for ‘National Security’ Affecting Trade Rules

Ruling may impact several US cases involving similar arguments

On Friday, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in favor of Russia in an ongoing case with Ukraine, establishing for the first time ever that a nation could use “national security” to exempt itself from certain aspects of international trade.

The case was related to Russia banning Ukrainian trains from direct transit to Russia, arguing they have to stop in Belarus first because of ongoing relations. Ukraine argued that it cost them large amounts of trade in Asia and the Caucasus. The WTO found that Russia’s claim of a national security issue at the border was “objectively true” and that Russia was allowed to limit direct rail traffic.

This could be a huge precedent in a number of cases, particularly those involving the US, as the Trump Administration is facing several cases involving nations like Canada in which they argued “national security” allowed them to do things like imposing large unilateral tariffs.

At the same time, the Trump Administration had argued that the standard was them invoking national security, and that there could be no international oversight. The WTO, in this case, clearly based the ruling on the specific facts. This implies the WTO could rule against using “national security” as an excuse if it isn’t warranted.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of