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Back to school for the 3rd national session: "Facing up to war", training in the spirit of defence

The 283 students taking part in the 3rd national session of the IHEDN began their year-long course on 13 September with speeches by military and government figures, including the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne.
Rentrée de la 3e session nationale

Appointed at the beginning of the summer by Order of the Prime MinisterIt was in his presence that the 283 auditors of the 3e national session made their début on Wednesday 13 September at the École Militaire. Throughout the day, they learned more about the course of their training, which will run until June 2024, while enjoying the first lectures given by leading figures from the military and civilian world, in connection with the study theme chosen for this year: "Faced with war, France and the new balances in its defence and security".

The Director of the IHEDN, Lieutenant General Benoît Durieux, first welcomed them to the Foch amphitheatre, predicting "the start of a collective adventure that will mark more than your year". He greeted the officers sent for this session by seven allied armies (Germany, Canada, Spain, the United States, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), as well as the students from the civilian world, emphasising: "We are all citizens".

Retailer the four circles of the national defence perimeterThe Director also reminded them of the Institute's motto: "Understanding in order to act, understanding in order to act together". "This has been the compass of our sessions since 1936", he emphasised. Giving an overview of the current strategic context, General Durieux detailed "three major phenomena today: the new roughness of relations between States; the anarchy that is affecting entire regions on our doorstep" with terrorist movements and various forms of trafficking, bearing in mind that "it is more difficult to control disorder than to reason with a unified State; and the fragilities that are emerging in our territories".


Prefect Stéphane Bouillon, General Secretary for Defence and National Security (SGDSN), who supervises the IHEDN on behalf of the Prime Minister, went on to explain its missions and the importance of the Institute's role. However, as the SGDSN's speech was covered by the Rule of Chatham HouseThe content of the conference, which was designed to ensure greater freedom of speech, was confined within the walls of the École Militaire. The same was true later in the day for the speech by the Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces, General Thierry Burkhard, and his exchanges with the audience, as well as for that of Lieutenant General Jacques de Montgros, Director of Military Intelligence, the following morning. This will be the case until the end of the session for all speeches by external personalities to the audience.

President of the IHEDN Board of DirectorsAmbassador Sylvie Bermann spoke briefly about its role, and that of the scientific advisory board. She also gave her vision of the strategic context, pointing out that she took up her post at the time of the pandemic in 2020, the first "black swan" in the global sky. "The war in Ukraine is another black swan, and in reality, there are more black swans than white swans in the world today", she added, quoting former minister Jean-Yves Le Drian: "The new world is going to be the old world only worse".

Prefect Denis Conus, Deputy Director of the IHEDN, then gave a detailed presentation of this 3rd edition of the IHEDN.e session. Last spring, he and the head of the national session department, armaments engineer Florence Plessix, chaired the selection panels for 500 applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds. "The IHEDN is not an academic entrance exam, and many of you have already passed some very difficult ones," he said. "The purpose of the interview with the jury is to enable the director to give the Prime Minister the best advice. And the best advice is a list that maximises the benefits of training to spread the spirit of defence in all sectors of society.

Intervention du Chef d’état-major des armées, le général d’armée Thierry Burkhard
Speech by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Army General Thierry Burkhard
Madame l'ambassadeur Sylvie Bermann
Ambassador Sylvie Bermann
Le préfet Denis Conus, Directeur adjoint de l’IHEDN
Prefect Denis Conus, Deputy Director of IHEDN


In two years, the number of applications has increased by 43%. Apart from military personnel from the Centre des Hautes Études Militaires (CHEM) and members of parliament (8 MPs, 4 senators and one MEP), who are members by right, all passed the selection process. With 283 auditors, 18 more than last year, "we are almost at maximum capacity", noted the Prefect. Their average age is 47. 30% of the candidates were women, but in the end there were 35% female auditors in the session. "The success rate for women is therefore higher than that for men, without any positive discrimination.

In addition to military personnel from the 7 allied countries, listeners come from 45 French departments and, new this year thanks to an agreement signed with the French Overseas Departments and Territories Ministry, from more distant departments, regions or communities: Martinique, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Polynesia and Reunion Island. In terms of socio-professional composition, there are four main categories:

  • Private sector: 31%, 2/3 from SMEs, ETIs or self-employed, and 1/3 from major groups, in energy, telecoms and digital, arms, aeronautics and space, banking and finance, publishing, transport, construction, consultancy, etc.
  • Ministry of the Armed Forces: 28%, mostly military personnel representing the three services and the gendarmerie, but also civilians
  • Public sector: 21%, with representatives from the three civil services (state, local and hospital), central government, the judiciary and higher education.
  • The remainder is made up of opinion leaders, for whom applications are on the increase: members of parliament, local elected representatives, heads of associations or foundations, lawyers, trade union representatives and representatives of religious denominations (one Catholic, one Protestant, one Buddhist).

Florence Plessix then succeeded the Prefect on the stage of the Foch amphitheatre to give details of the national session. IHEDN training is based on a three-pronged pedagogical approach, described in detail by Dr Guillaume Lasconjarias, head of the studies and research department, with :

  • Lectures by leading figures from the world of defence
  • Work on specific subjects in committees of several auditors
  • Field visits in France and abroad, and missions to pre-positioned armed forces in French Guiana, Djibouti, etc.


Together, the 283 auditors follow a common core curriculum and dedicated courses for each of the five majors, which their heads presented in turn: 

  • Defence Policy (PolDef), headed by Lieutenant General (in 2e section) Michel Yakovleff
  • Armaments and Defence Economics (AED), headed by Armaments Engineer General (2S) Étienne Paris
  • Defence and Economic Security (DSE), headed by Engineer General of Armaments (2S) Jacques Roujansky
  • Maritime Issues and Strategies (ESM), headed by Vice-Admiral (2S) Franck Baduel
  • Digital Sovereignty and Cybersecurity (SNC), headed by Vice-Admiral (2S) Henri Schricke
Présentation des chefs de départements
Introducing the heads of department
Auditeurs de la 3e session nationale
Auditors at the 3rd national session


In the afternoon, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne addressed the audience, together with a number of military and government authorities. Introducing the theme for this year's 3e In her address to the national session on "Faced with war, France and the new balances of its defence and security", the Head of Government emphasised: "We would no doubt all have preferred to avoid asking ourselves these crucial and painful questions again. However, it will be up to you, over the course of this year, to reflect on them as part of your work.

"In the words of a woman who knows the armed forces, who has worn the uniform" (editor's note: of the École polytechnique), she then urged the audience to "approach this question with lucidity, with a certain gravity, but also with great confidence in our country's ability to meet the challenges of our time".

From observations to analyses, the Prime Minister peppered her speech with advice to the students on how to approach their training at the IHEDN: "We are going through a period of profound change with the return of war to Europe and emerging crises around the world. To analyse this period, we need to look at the world as it is, without twisting reality to make it reassuring or to fit a predefined reading grid. 

After welcoming the audience from overseas, the Head of Government spoke of the forthcoming launch of the Defence Academy of the École Militaire (ACADEM), stressing the importance of building "on the formidable expertise developed on the École Militaire site, the heart of French strategic thinking. The École Militaire Defence Academy project, which will be launched in October, bears witness to this vitality and to the results of the efforts of General Benoît Durieux, who is carrying this project forward with determination". The Prime Minister's speech at the start of the IHEDN national session is available at to be found in full on the government's X account.

The following day, the auditors continued their studies with their first field trip, which was both intellectually and physically rewarding: the AED and ESM majors went to the 3e Marine Infantry Regiment at Fort de Penthièvre (Morbihan), the SNC and DSE majors at 1er Régiment de spahis in Valence (Drôme) and at the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique in Grenoble (Isère), while the PolDef major was at the Centre national d'entraînement commando in Collioure (Pyrénées-Orientales).

Intervention de Mme Élisabeth Borne, Première ministre
Speech by Élisabeth Borne, Prime Minister of France
Mme Élisabeth Borne Première ministre, s'adresse aux auditeurs de l'IHEDN
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne addresses IHEDN students