Solferino 21

Warfare, Civilians and Humanitarians in the Twenty-First Century

January 2022 9781787386839 328pp
May 2024 9781911723301 328pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


War is at a tipping point: we’re passing from the age of industrial warfare to a new era of computerised warfare, and a renewed risk of great-power conflict. Humanitarian response is also evolving fast—‘big aid’ demands more and more money, while aid workers try to digitalise, preparing to meet ever-broader needs in the long, big wars and climate crisis of the future. 

This book draws on the founding moment of the modern Red Cross movement—the 1859 Battle of Solferino, a moment of great change in the nature of conflict—to track the big shifts already underway, and still to come, in the wars and war aid of our century. Hugo Slim first surveys the current landscape: the tech, politics, law and strategy of warfare, and the long-term transformations ahead as conflict goes digital. He then explains how civilians both suffer and survive in today’s wars, and how their world is changing. Finally, he critiques today’s humanitarian system, citing the challenges of the 2020s.   

Inspired by Henri Dunant’s seminal humanitarian text, Solferino 21 alerts policymakers to the coming shakeup of the military and aid professions, illuminating key priorities for the new century. Humanitarians, he warns, must adapt or fail.


Solferino 21 is a brilliantly written book: it is accessible, informative, provocative, and offers helpful summaries of contemporary warfare and humanitarianism.’ — Ethics & International Affairs

‘A compelling examination of the origin story of modern humanitarianism.’ — The Irrawaddy

‘This compelling tract is an irrepressible call for justice, humanity and genuine universality, in a “humanitarian rethink” for the twenty-first century. Impeccable scholarship, and an electrifying, potentially transformative text.’ — Rama Mani, Co-founder, Home for Humanity

‘An urgent, provocative, controversial and thoughtful meditation on the past and future of humanitarian aid. It is a call to reform and think afresh humanitarian work in the face of changing notions of what wars are and will be.’ — Bertrand Taithe, Professor of Cultural History and Director at the Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute, University of Manchester

‘Engaging, sophisticated and informed, this is an important contribution to humanitarian thought and practice on the 160th anniversary of Dunant’s seminal essay on Solferino. Slim’s continuing optimism is persuasive, but this is also a sober analysis of current trends.’ — Michael Newman, Emeritus Professor of Politics, London Metropolitan University, and author of Humanitarian Intervention

‘Slim’s accessible and sparkling Solferino 21 interprets Henri Dunant’s humanizing response to carnage as a tradition to reinvent, keeping up with the evolving realities of war and the priority of civilian protection.’ — Samuel Moyn, Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence, Yale Law School, author of Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War



Hugo Slim is a senior research fellow at the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, and at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the Blavatnik School of Government.

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