In his keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg argued that “economic relations with authoritarian regimes can create vulnerabilities”, citing not only Russia, but also China – “another authoritarian regime that does not share our values”.
He went on to describe the idea that “we should have free trade in natural gas meaning we can buy as much gas from Russia as you want” as “wrong” and “dangerous” because “it provides Russia with a tool to intimidate and to use against us”.
As to trade with China, he acknowledged “there are huge benefits”, clarifying that “I’m not arguing against trading with China”. But he pointed out that “control over 5G networks is of vital security importance”, so we should not “just open up those networks”.
Stoltenberg emphasised that “we should not trade long-term security needs for short-term economic interests” because “freedom is more important than free trade”, and proclaimed that “our economic choices have consequences for our security.”
All these arguments make sense, and I’m not about to suggest Stoltenberg is completely wrong. (Limiting foreign ownership of critical infrastructure certainly seems like a good idea.) However, there is one major caveat I’d like to discuss.
Stoltenberg frames the issue as “short-term economic interests” versus “long-term security needs”, implying that trade with “authoritarian regimes” is good for the economy but bad for national security. Yet there’s reason to believe that trade with such regimes could be good for national security. How?