Weird French "School of Economic Warfare"

Fri Nov 26 00:52:43 PST 1999

The following piece of high weirdness comes from Reuters. I really don't know what to make of it, but maybe we've found a professorship for Dennis?


PARIS, Nov 25 (Reuters) - With its war on British beef and black sheep role in international trade talks, France seems like the last country in the world that needs to learn how to defend its interests in the globalised market.

In fact, as the World Trade Organisation summit to consider a new "millennium round" of trade negotiations nears, Paris seems to be flexing some protectionist muscles with mounting demands to shield its films and farmers from U.S. competition.

But at a small business school tucked down a side street near the military academy Napoleon once attended, France ranks as weak and ill-prepared, encircled by threatening competitors and held back by short-sighted managers.

Hoping to come to its defence, the private School of Economic Warfare has worked out a curriculum that sounds more like James Bond than the Harvard Business School.

The course list bristles with entries on military strategy, intelligence, subversion, martial arts, agitprop, psychological manipulation and the art of polemics.

Computers and the Internet play a central role, especially when linked to topics like info-war, computer attacks and the "info-destabilisation of companies."


Even the less cloak-and-dagger courses have an aggressive edge -- lobbying, networking and information management.

"This is the new age of intelligence," Christian Harbulot, director of the two-year-old institute, told Reuters.

"The information society is revolutionising the economic balance of power. The stronger one is not the one who spies on the other, it is the one who controls knowledge."

The military air about the school is no coincidence.

Harbulot used to work for a subsidiary of the French arms export agency and got its help to launch the school in 1997. One of his lecturers is retired General Jean Pichot-Duclos, former head of the French military intelligence school.

A small but growing number of the 25 students taken in each year comes from the military. But Harbulot denies this is a not-too-covert school for spies.

"If we want to be clever and illegal, our life expectancy would be very, very short," he insisted.

"Our main weapon is not poison or a revolver, but an operation of encirclement and intrusion by knowledge."

Harbulot recalled how public pressure scuttled the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) last year and could help save Europe's farm subsidies at the WTO's trade talks.

"We are a school where the principal weapon is the art of polemics," he said. "Polemics is really a French art. It can become an arm in a broadly understood culture of intelligence.

"In the food trade, we can ask whether one can produce goods that harm public health? Can we sell chickens stuffed with antibiotics? Tobacco products with addictive additives?

"There are lots of info-wars behind those questions."


In their book "France Should Say No," Harbulot and Pichot- Duclos identify the targets their knowledge should attack.

"Thinking lucidly about the future of our country implies that we dare to say 'no' to a hegemonic America, a vassal Europe and a submissive France," they wrote.

Harbulot, who was a Maoist activist in the 1970s, sees international business competition in terms reminiscent of the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu.

"You have to find the point of equilibrium in the balance of forces," he said. "One should seek out the adversary's weak points and work out how to reveal them.

"You have to weaken the other. It's obligatory. The best way is to weaken him where he does not even know he is weak."

Asked what this meant for France in international trade talks, Harbulot said his country was no longer strong enough to impose its will but still had enough clout to frustrate others.

"For France, the most offensive strategy is to seek a balance," he said. "We must temper the appetites of bigger competitors -- but for that we must be able to act tactically."


The one-year course of study at the School of Economic Warfare, which is a division of a larger private business school known as ESLSCA, costs 52,000 francs ($8,176) for university graduates and 64,000 francs ($10,060) for mid-career entrants.

Harbulot said about three-quarters of the graduates from the first two years have found jobs in information management and some in the intelligence field.

"We have very few foreign students," he said. "We wanted to have Germans and there have been a lot of articles in the German press, but they seem to be suspicious."

The foreigners are not the only ones who are wary. Access to the school is through a storefront with an unmarked door and Venetian blinds blocking the view through the front window.

Asked why there was no sign, Harbulot laughed: "We didn't want to frighten the neighbours!"

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Thursday, 25 November 1999 11:01:54 RTRS [nL17128996]




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