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ARCRA Webinar February 25 - Solferino 21- Warfare, Civilians and Humanitarians in the 21st Century by Hugo Slim

02/28/2022 10:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Solferino 21 – Warfare, Civilians and Humanitarians in the Twenty-First Century by Hugo Slim

Harold Brooks, ARCRA President interviewed Hugo Slim, the former IFRC Director of International Law and Policy, about his new book Solferino 21 – Warfare, Civilians and Humanitarians in the Twenty-First Century.  The book is a persuasive overview of conflict and aid today, calling for a major rethink of war humanitarianism to meet the new challenges of the twenty-first century.

More than 80 attendees listened to Hugo Slim, talk about his book, Solferino 21- Warfare, Civilians and Humanitarians in the Twenty-First Century.  Dr. Hugo Slim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice at Blackfriars Hall at the University of Oxford and was Head of Policy and Humanitarian Diplomacy at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva from 2015 to 2020.

Red Crossers are familiar with the Battle of Solferino in 1859.  The 15 hours of fighting left some 8,000 men dead and more than 20,000 wounded or missing.  The military medical services were overwhelmed. A young Swiss man, Henri Dunant, in the area on business, helped local women volunteers care for the wounded and dying at the church of Castiglione.  Regardless of what side they fought on, all soldiers were treated equally.    In 1862, Dunant, the father of the Red Cross movement,  self-published a graphic account of the aftermath of the battle, called  A Memory of Solferino.

Dunant pushed for:

·  the establishment of an international network of national relief societies to care for the injured – an idea that would eventually lead to the formation of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,

·  the creation of an international relief society to support those national societies (ICRC),

·  and, the creation of international law to protect the wounded in war, which developed into the Geneva Conventions.  

In his comments, Slim marveled that not only did Dunant propose these three policy actions, he was able to actualize them within two years, in 1864.

Slim broke his presentation into the three parts represented by the book…warfare, civilians and humanitarians.


Slim represented that warfare in 1859 was reaching a tipping point. In the Battle at Solferino, the Second War of Italian Independence, two monarchs led traditional warfare, in which armies battled on foot and on horseback.  But with the growth of rail and the industrial economy, the world of warfare reached a tipping point moving into the new era of industrial warfare, a time of huge peer-to-peer armies on land, sea and in the air, fighting with sophisticated, automatic weaponry.

Slim related that warfare so far in the 21st century has been militarily small with small battles, unlike the 20th century and before, and with significantly fewer casualties.  This is good news. However, in the 21st century, Slim believes we have reached another tipping point facing a global war using computer warfare and artificial intelligence for planetary advantage in outer space, cyberspace and personal info-space.  We are entering a new era of computerized “big war”, and a renewal of great-power conflicts with super powers like China, Russia, the United States, India and NATO.  Are humanitarians able and willing to change to meet the challenges of a new century of warfare and of climate change?


Slim talked about Dunant’s focus to improve the treatment and alleviate the suffering of soldiers, male soldiers.  The focus of current efforts is to reduce civilian deaths, especially the deaths of women and children. The nature of war has changed from big war with incredible numbers of civilians killed to smaller wars or battles with fewer civilians killed.  For example in World War II, 45,000 people were killed in one night of bombing of Hamburg, Germany, as compared to an estimated 19,000 civilians killed by explosive weapons in urban areas during 2020.  While the number of deaths has diminished, the impact of war on societies is devastating:  the loss of jobs; destruction of hospitals and clinics; public servants like police and firefighters flee their jobs; destruction of homes, schools and communities; and devastation of the local economy.  War has displaced and impoverished entire communities.


Slim stated that the current humanitarian movement emerged from both World Wars, with the formation of large, international humanitarian organizations:  Save the Children, Red Cross, United Nations, World Food Program, Settlement Houses, and other charitable programs.  In the 20th century we saw a new focus led by Muhammad Yunus and his founding of the Grameen Bank, a new type of social program of microcredit and microloans directly to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. 

Slim talked of two traditions within humanitarian movements:

  • A neutral “Swiss model” - neutrality, with equal treatment and access to all sides
  •  Resistance humanitarianism – that takes sides

Humanitarian organizations need to adapt if they are to meet the new challenges of the 21st century, or they will fail.  Humanitarian response is evolving quickly and requires big money to respond to the ever-broader needs in long, big wars and climate crisis in the future.

Slim provided four recommendations to humanitarian organizations:

1.    Humanitarian agencies and workers must prepare for the big war and the global impact of climate change.

2.    Stay focused on ALL CITIZENS and support with simpler aid to drive money to people on the ground.

3.    Recognize the role and importance of both neutral, traditional humanitarian organizations and resistance aid organizations.

4.    Move fast to become leaner and drive “localization” that invests in trusted national and community organizations.

Slim closed with a less than optimistic prediction of the outcome of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  He referred to a mystical, nationalist vision to reunite the three core countries of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.  Russian policy in Ukraine would be to remove their current government, media and resistance leaders, and bring them back under Russian government and control.  He did not believe that traditional, western NGO’s would be allowed in, and groups like the ICRC and UN would operate under Russian control with Russian appointed individuals in charge.

Dr. Hugo Slim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice at Blackfriars Hall at the University of Oxford and works with the Institute of Ethics, Las and Armed Conflict at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government.  Dr Slim has combined a career in academia, policy and practice.  His career includes working at Save the Children-UK, working for the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Ethiopia, and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brooks University where he co-led the new Masters in Development and Humanitarian Practice with Nabeel Hamdi at the Center for Development and Emergency Practice, winning a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education. He has also worked at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, He was Head of Policy and Humanitarian Diplomacy at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva from 2015 to 2020.

The program was video recorded.
Click here to view. 

You can also listen to the audio recording of the program. Click here to listen.

Order the book
The book will not be published in the US until April, 2022. In the meantime, you can order it directly from the UK publisher to be delivered to the US. Please use this website and  the Promo code SOLFERINO for a 25% discount  


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