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Closing of the National Session: "A desire for France in the face of the assertion of powers".

After a year of work and visits, the 264 auditors from the 2nd national session gathered for a closing day packed with meetings and events, including a keynote speech by former Defence and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

On Friday 16 June, the Foch amphitheatre at the Ecole Militaire and its surroundings took on the air of a university campus at the end of a course. And with good reason: the auditors of the 2022-2023 national session, the second since the reform of the IHEDN in 2021, celebrated the end of their one-year course in style, with a presentation of their work, a graduation ceremony, a master class by a well-known personality and, to finish, a gala evening.

The 264 auditors, aged 47 on average, came from a wide range of professional and geographical backgrounds. This year, one third were women auditors, and the same proportion came from regions outside the Paris region. The private sector was the most represented, with the majority of auditors sent by companies in the defence industrial and technological base, large groups but also a good proportion of VSEs and ETIs, and in telecoms, energy, banking, etc. Opinion leaders (members of parliament, lawyers, journalists) were also well represented, although there was only one trade unionist and one religious representative, both unique candidates in their respective categories. Finally, the public sector (24 establishments including the CEA, CNRS and CNES) and civilians and military personnel from the Ministry of the Armed Forces made up large blocks, with 10 foreign military personnel as well.

For forty to fifty days spread over one year, depending on their major - Armaments and Defence Economics (AED), Economic Defence and Security (DSE), Defence Policy (PolDef), Maritime Issues and Strategies (ESM) or Digital Sovereignty and Cybersecurity (SNC) - these auditors met high-level players from the defence sector, visited sites (in mainland France, Guyana, Jordan, Djibouti, Israel, Japan, etc.), and worked in 21 different committees to reflect on a global issue: national defence in the face of the assertion of power. Their work will be forwarded to the Prime Minister's office, the supervisory authority for the IHEDN.

THE NEED TO MAKE FEASIBLE AND REALISTIC CHOICES

"This experience has certainly transformed you", declared Florence Plessix, the head of the IHEDN's national session department, in the Foch amphitheatre. "And all your work will create a desire for France in the face of this assertion of power", continued Guillaume Lasconjarias, head of the teaching and research department.

The researcher identified three variables common to all 21 committees' work: the way in which competition between China and the United States, and more generally between the EU and the rest of the world, influences France; the acceleration of climate change; and access to resources, which determines France's ability to shine. In the light of these observations, three directions emerged: the need for France to make feasible and realistic choices; not to give in to the temptation of magic money; and the importance of timing.

Spokespersons for the committees then presented a summary of their work at four round tables, including the following verbatims of their findings and recommendations:

1. STRATEGY AND RETURN TO THE OFFENSIVE

"We must aim for leadership in the low-carbon economy". "It is necessary to protect the EU's internal market in the most sensitive sectors. "There is a systemic opposition between the "invisible hand" of the liberal market and the planned model with totalitarian roots in China. "We must seek cyber power, in particular through the lawfare. " "How should France respond to these new threats? Defensive or offensive? Defensive alone is not possible. "In the face of hyper-velocity threats, retreating into a Gallic village is not an option. "The question of public support: the country needs to be aware of the threat. "Create an optimistic vision for the French. "To be agile and fast, we need to manufacture in France and train in France. "A ministry for cybersecurity and digital technology.

2. THE MEANS OF POWER

"We have a shortage of engineers, technicians and workers, particularly in the defence industry. "There are 50 million digital engineers and technicians in Hyderabad alone, India's Silicon Valley. "If we don't have the skills, we won't be able to spend the LPM budgets. "We can have French industrial champions!" "The situation is paradoxical: we have more than 10 million km2 of exclusive economic zone, but we lack fishing and mining resources." "The issue of France's ability to train our EU and NATO partners is a political and intangible resource that needs to be worked on." "Strengthen the attachment of the DROM-COM to the nation. "Base our influence on the French-speaking world". "Be an astute power.

3. OTHER WAYS OF EXPRESSING POWER

"Governments must retain their decision-making autonomy in the face of pressure from society or the EU, in order to build a real strategy of influence. "Abroad, we are perceived as arrogant, and internally, we have a feeling of being downgraded, even though we are still at the cutting edge in many areas. "Our senior civil servants are not trained to negotiate. "We need real technical profiles as candidates in the European elections so that we can have an impact at this level. "At European or NATO level, we can be allies without being aligned. "When it comes to controlling data, the Americans have a business approach, the Chinese an approach based on population control. What is our approach? "We need to create a European digital federation. "Today, NGOs and the media are being used to undermine our fundamental interests. "The law must not prevent action, it must enable it. "In cyber, we have a capacity problem in the face of major technological breakthroughs. AI, quantum... How can we not watch the train go by when we see the huge investments of the GAFAMs? We have to stop being naive". "We need to reach out to young French people and develop a spirit of defence from an early age. "Our country is much sought-after from the outside; we need to make it proud from within." "We must cooperate with NGOs that are close to us, influence those that are in between, and hinder those that are hostile." "The values of democracy, social and societal equity, still speak abroad."

4. LESSONS FROM THE WAR IN UKRAINE

 "The war has brought about a shift: fewer stocks and flows, less volume, which makes European cooperation necessary. "The war rehabilitated the notion of sovereignty and reminded us that energy is the language of power. "Massive use of disinformation and OSINT". "The emergence of non-state actors such as cyber-criminals. "We need to train our young people in cyber threats. "The shadow of nuclear power. "Why not create a Livret A passbook to finance industrial projects?"

 

After speeches by Brigadier General Pascal Ianni, spokesman for the Armed Forces General Staff and a former IHEDN auditor, and Jérôme de Labriffe, President of Union IHEDN, on "the aftermath of IHEDN for auditors", the auditors gathered for a buffet lunch in the Espace Joffre, next to the Amphi Foch.

"A LUCID, OPTIMISTIC APPROACH DEVOID OF OBSIDIONAL COMPLEXES".

Then Lieutenant General Benoît Durieux, Director of the IHEDN and higher military education, gave a closing address praising the "lucid, optimistic approach devoid of obsidional complexes" of the auditors' work. "May you spread this habit of calm debate, this ability to trust one another, this openness to the world and this sense of responsibility", he asked them.

The guest of honour at the closing ceremony then took to the stage in the Foch amphitheatre. Jean-Yves Le Drian, currently the French President's personal envoy for Lebanon and former Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (2017-2022) and Defence (2012-2017), spent an hour giving his analysis of the latest geopolitical and strategic developments, before taking questions from the audience. As all IHEDN session events are governed by the Chatham House rule, the content of the speech was confined to the walls of the Ecole Militaire.