Thierry de Montbrial
All of his intellectual activity and action are led by the idea that progress in human societies is possible, when reason and sensitivity coalesce harmoniously. Trained in the hard sciences, particularly in mathematics, in which his interest has never ceased, he dedicated his PhD thesis at Berkeley to the temporal dimension in the economic theory of general equilibrium, supervised by Gérard Debreu, Nobel Prize laureate in 1983. The concepts of time and equilibrium, and therefore History, are threaded throughout his work. In his view, economics remain the queen of the sciences of action, even though, as observed in 2008, the facts sometimes offer harsh reminders of its limitations. He transformed the teaching of this discipline at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, with a team that he chaired for eighteen years (1974-1992).
At the same time, from 1973, his position as first director of the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting (CAP) at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs allowed him to extend the scope of his thinking and action to international politics and strategy. Bringing together one of the most brilliant teams of experts, he worked guided by the firm belief that, while scientific knowledge is essential in these areas too, it must be accompanied by in-depth relationships with others, in a spirit of respect, tolerance and empathy. During his six years at the CAP, he instituted an “intellectual diplomacy” never before seen in France, which led him to travel across the five continents, engaging in an abundance of encounters and forming ever more ties. These experiences allowed him to better embrace and develop sensitivity towards other cultures.
Continuing in this direction, he introduced the concept of think tank in his country, creating the Institut français des relations internationales (Ifri), now ranked among the best in the world. He believes think tanks have a major part to play in the 21st century, to give flesh to the still embryonic idea of global civil society. While geopolitics is often associated with war, Thierry de Montbrial has worked tirelessly towards a geopolitics of peace. He considers that there is no greater collective task than establishing legitimate and effective global governance. To this end, he launched the World Policy Conference (WPC), which in thirteen years has established itself as one of the foremost circles for discussion worldwide. The next edition of the WPC will take place in Abu Dhabi on October 1-3, 2021.
The dual scientific and human dimension in Thierry de Montbrial’s work is reflected in his many books, teaching and conferences, which extend beyond the scope of economics and international relations to touch on philosophy and spirituality.