This paper looks at the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) as an important part of the international trade law system and explores if and how it affects the steering capacity of a nation state regarding higher education. It offers a new conceptual framework to look on the impact of GATS on higher education within its increasingly complex environment by distinguishing between the 'static' dimension (GATS' rules and disciplines) and the 'dynamic' dimension (stakeholders' standpoints, views and actions). Furthermore, by comparing two case studies conducted in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, it connects the theoretical framework on GATS and the steering capacity of a nation state with specific national conditions and complements case studies that have been so far carried out in other countries. We concluded that neither through the static dimension nor through the dynamic, was the steering capacity in the two cases affected directly: nation states remain the prime actors regarding higher education. Nevertheless, exercising their power over higher education has become more complex and nation states must take more consequences of their internal policy choices into account, which may be difficult to predict.