Claude Eon's Comments
I spent most of my professional life at the Ministère de la Défense in various Directorates covering (in order) technological R&D (analogous to US DARPA), International Affairs, Strategic Matters and Policy Issues. The “price to pay” was to keep a low and neutral public profile, which was not very compatible with publishing. Although most of the work was classified, in fact the only secret (and very well kept secret) is that there was no secret!
There were a lot of good points, though: well-equipped labs, comfortable R&D budgets, working on issues that really mattered. By chance, I very rapidly reached the circle of the happy few “senior executives”. The salary was good (for a civil servant!) plus some perks that flatter the ego -- a company car, air travel in business class. In short, I worked very hard but I was well-treated in return.
The high point would have been as Director of the French Nuclear Chemical and Biological Defence R&D centre. It was about 400 people, half of them at the Ph.D. level: M.D.s, veterinarians, pharmacists, chemists, biologists, physicists, technologists. I managed to do away with most of the paper-pushing, relying on my deputies (generals or colonels) to do more boring side of it. I could concentrate on the main forces driving the R&D and on the international cooperation: there were over 20 countries involved, plus the U.N., N.A.T.O., U.N.M.O.V.I.C. ( the Iraqi disarmament agency at the U.N. New York ) and others.
There was a lot of travelling, usually short trips, but almost half of my time was abroad. Apart from the USA (mostly Washington and N.Y.) which I visited 3 to 4 times a year, my favourite places were Israel, Singapore, South Africa, Australia and, unexpectedly, Russia. A common joke when I was at the office was “today the boss is not Not Here”. It sums it up!
In 1996 (nine years before I retired in Sept 2005) they moved me to the General Delegation for Armaments (14,000 people). I was put in charge of disarmament and non proliferation issues for all types of treaties – Nuclear, Ballistic, and Chemical Weapons; classical weapons of all sorts; harmonisation of national policies on export controls of high tech equipment and dual-use goods. There was yet more travelling, now with a troupe of diplomats, often at the Ambassador level. At first this was “a zoo” for me, as we scientists are not quite prepared to put up with the endless talk that characterizes the international negotiating arenas. However, not only did I get used to it, but I found it very rewarding to be in a position to “feed” the policy makers with scientific assessments, so that the decisions would not be made on only political grounds, as it is too often the case.
My last position (2 years before retirement) was in charge of the Sustainable Development issues and policies, at large: including the environment, birds, water, industrial processes, energy, recycling and so on. This entailed a lot of coordination with the main industrial branches of the French Ministries and Agencies, and also other countries (mostly within the European Union). But the truth is I didn’t like it too much, even though it looked nice on the organisational chart!
Overall, this has been very rich and rewarding career. As a scientific advisor, I really enjoyed being at the interface between the scientific community and people such as militaries, diplomats, lawyers, politicians, and policy makers. I am not naïve enough to think that I had an overwhelming weight in the decision-making processes, but yet, I was able to have a voice and a real influence on some key issues.
I did not became omniscient – I was supported by the labs – but the experience did broaden my views. I also became more and more concerned about the role of scientists in society, and all the related ethical issues. At one point I visited military scientists in the former USSR who had been involved in developing biological weapons. Even though those weapons were disgusting and hideous, these people did not seem devious: they were scientists and patriots working for their country. Would I have done the same if put in their position?
Upon retirement I started a small independent business, as a consultant, mostly on safety, environment, and green technologies issues. My main customer is a large Japanese firm. In addition to the trips to Japan , this consulting business provides many other opportunities (excuses?) to travel. Since the beginning of the year it has taken me to Singapore, the USA and Italy, twice; Canada, the Netherlands, and Belgium. I will return to Canada in this fall as well as Japan …
I also do some teaching and I have been sitting on various committees. The one I like best is on "Science, Defence and Ethics”. I meet a lot of interesting people, playing key roles for Catholics, Jews, Moslems, Philosophers, Moralists. If I were not so lazy, I would embark on writing something for graduate students on the responsibility and duties of scientists as citizens, but this is probably beyond my capacity. I will however give a couple of lectures on those lines, which is much easier.
I am aging. It shows, but I guess I have no time to see it yet. All this gives me the illusion (but only the illusion) that I remain young, but I know it would be wise to step down a bit. I have reached a point where I need more time than money, but I have a problem that apart from working I don’t know yet what else would make me tick.
Marie-Therese is still at my side. We have a son, doing well as a mechanical engineer in the international branch of a large French firm, and a daughter, graduated from a business school and working for a financial and insurance group based in Paris . She has given us a now 7-month baby boy, and a 2-and-a- half-year old girl.