Jeffrey LewisThérèse Delpech (1948-2012)

Sad news today, as Bruno Tertrais has emailed me to say that Thérèse Delpech, doyenne of the French strategic studies community, has passed away.

The last time I saw Thérèse, my wife and I were standing at the TGV station in Avignon, trying to figure out how to purchase a ticket with a North American credit card.  (We ended up stealing the short ride to Aix.)

We found ourselves in Avignon after touring  the decommissioned French fissile material production facilities at Pierrelatte and Marcoule.  I had met Thérèse at several meetings over the years, but that trip to Provence was the first time I really understood how special she was.  I was seated at a lunch with a few French experts, including Thérèse and Bruno Tertrais.  Thérèse could be combative in meetings, so it was with a little trepidation that I sat down.  The previous time I had seen Thérèse was in Paris where she was not very impressed by some of things my traveling companions were saying about nuclear weapons. “Well, it is your deterrent,” I remember her saying, with “your deterrent” sounding exactly like “your funeral.”

Lunch turned out to be pure magic.  Thérèse enjoyed talking about wine and philosophy as much as nuclear weapons.  That lunch is one of my favorite memories, as Thérèse turned her formidable intellect to all the things I really find interesting in life.   (The wine was also excellent!)  By the end of that trip, I was completely charmed. The next thing I knew, we were all in Avignon, with Thérèse troubleshooting the TGV before bidding us farewell.

There is something strange about finding out how much you enjoy someone’s company only to never see that person again.  I noticed that, recently, Thérèse had been traveling less and was cool about committing to a conference I’ve been planning.  It never occurred to me, although it should have, that there might be a reason she was staying close to home.  Thérèse was such a presence that I simply couldn’t imagine one day she would be gone.  It would be like waking up in Paris only to see someone had taken down the Tour Eiffel.

Thérèse was a very special person.  She will be missed.


  1. David (History)

    Very nice note. A great loss for the strategic community indeed, in France, Europe, and beyond.

  2. mark (History)

    Thanks, Jeffrey.

    Our first meeting was in Washington in 1986, when Therese grabbed the microphone on the podium at a meeting and answered a question from someone in the audience about some nasty German export to Iraq with a reference to an article of mine she had read on the plane coming over from Paris three hours before. Afterward I introduced myself and found out who she was–I was pretty intimidated, still wet behind the ears in those days and her reputation was already considerable. But I got over it and into the 90s joined the coterie she referred to as “mes enfants” and in a way so we were. There were back then (France hadn’t signed the NPT yet) not very many articulate, opinionated people in that country who were passionate about the topic of this blog. One day in about 1995 I ran into her by chance in the middle of a crosswalk in London in front of St James’. We went to Berry Bros. and talked about Pakistan and India. Our last meeting was not long ago–a late lunch in a small restaurant a five-minute walk from the Invalides. Therese appeared fragile and sipped herb tea during a heart-to-heart about China, its nuclear materials policies, and the West. She was more than a colleague. She excited and motivated, she had real contours, and she had real principles.

  3. Ian (History)

    It is an excellent picture to represent an excellent life. Whoever is on the receiving end is certainly understanding the message being delivered.

  4. Olli Heinonen (History)

    Thank you, Jeffrey. A great, dedicate, and sharp character. She made many of our debates unforgetable with her dry to the point interventions.

  5. Bruno Gruselle (History)

    Thank you Jeffrey. She will be sorely missed.

  6. Jon W (History)

    When Iwas very new to the field, Therese was one of the first senior people in the field to treat me like a peer (the very first was George Bunn, a finer gentlemen there will never be). At the time, I surely did not deserve the fine treatment I received from her, knowing very little of what I was talking about but she was supportive, engaging, listened, and was receptive. Later, I realised that when she respected you, she would tear your less than fully formed ideas to shreds with her wit, intellect, and firm convictions. She is a model for not only women in the field who should never ever back down in what remains a male dominated field, but for any serious analyst – know what you think, make sure you can back it up, and be prepared to assert yourself without making it personal.

    A great loss for us all.

  7. Jim Hoagland (History)

    Unique is a word I avoid. But in the case of Therese, it is absolutely accurate. Her loss diminishes our common wisdom and humanity.

  8. krepon (History)

    Thérèse was a lovely woman with a fierce intellect. Truly formidable (please use the French pronunciation.) It was always a treat to watch her spar intellectually, to engage in drafting exercises with her, and to see what wardrobe she would choose from her closet. It is impossible to imagine a discussion in Paris without her at the table.

  9. michael adler (History)

    Therese was about as ferocious an advocate as you could imagine. Intimidating at first, she was generous in conversation, especially since she brought so much knowledge, experience and contacts to the table. She was a true “engagee” French intellectual. She sharpened your knowledge, whether you agreed with her or not. She will be missed.

  10. Hal Feiveson (History)

    Nice recollection! Therese was for sure special, and didn’t take prisonners. I have one fond memory of escorting her around Princeton, including a visit to Einstein’s home.