Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) Publication

A grave, world-wide threat

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) kill thousands every year, inflict grievous physical injuries, cause dire psychological harm and spread fear and disruption across affected communities. Their impact on the security and stability of affected States is profound: IED attacks not only hinder the political, social and economic development of a country, they also block life-saving humanitarian aid. In recent years, IEDs have become the primary weapon for non-state armed groups across many conflicts. IED incidents have occurred in 66 countries and territories in the last three years, including in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Eight countries saw over 1,000 civilian casualties of IEDs.[1]The threat of IED attacks is a global problem. Cheap and relatively easy to construct, IEDs can be made anywhere from a wide range of materials – from everyday tools to commercial explosives used in construction and mining. The lack of proper stockpile security of military and commercial explosives – making them susceptible to diversion into illicit hands – also presents a significant security risk.


In the last few years more than 4,300 ‘improvised explosive device events’ have resulted in an estimated 65,400 casualties – in 2014 alone, over three-quarters of casualties were civilian. IEDs now kill 10 times more civilians than landmines do in Afghanistan. [2]Over the last decade, 367 humanitarian workers have been killed and injured by IEDs.[3]The percentage of IED attacks occurring in populated areas has risen to 62%.


Cheap and easy to construct, IEDs allow lightly armed and barely trained militants to engage far better equipped security forces. They help tip the balance in an asymmetric conflict by enabling insurgents to inflict casualties without exposing themselves. The unpredictable, combat-avoiding nature of IED attacks can effectively sap the morale of security forces. IEDs significantly limit the mobility of troops as time-consuming sweeps for concealed devices need to be conducted. Forces are weighed down with equipment – metal detectors, electronic counter-measure systems, and robots.



To a number of UN peacekeeping missions, IEDs are the largest single threat. The contingents of many countries that make up the bulk of UN peacekeeping missions use unarmoured pick-up trucks that are highly vulnerable to IEDs.[4]It restricts their ability to patrol rural areas and allows insurgents to establish and maintain control over territory.5]


Oil and gas pipelines – a key source of revenue for many States – are particularly vulnerable. Insurgents looking to put pressure on governments also target mobile telephone networks, railway lines, bridges, electricity grids, cultural heritage, and tourist resorts.Such actions sow terror, disrupt commerce and tax revenue, break down communications, destroy identity-defining artefacts of civilizations, and undermine confidence in the authorities.

Difficult to take action

Due to their specific nature as a tool of asymmetric warfare, IEDs are produced entirely outside of government oversight. Combating their covert, rough-and-ready manufacture is a particular challenge. A full and comprehensive approach to addressing IEDs has been lacking. There is only piecemeal international cooperation against the rapid and widespread transfer of knowledge on IED design, little work on controlling commercial components, and an absence of sustained attention to victim assistance.


Some relevant initiatives to address IEDs have been put in place by governments and international and regional organizations. Under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, an expert group has developed a compilation of existing guidelines and best practices aimed at addressing the diversion or illicit use of materials which can be used for IEDs.[6] Also, in the context of counter-terrorism, States have resolved to deny terrorists access to the means to carry out their attacks.[7] International organizations have also put in place an initiative aimed at the interdiction of cross-border high-risk explosive precursor chemicals identified as those most prevalently used in IEDs.[8]


GA resolution

In 2015, Afghanistan took the lead within the General Assembly to develop a resolution focused on the need for an effective global, comprehensive, coordinated approach to counter the proliferation of these weapons of choice in settings of violent extremism and instability. The resolution (70/46), adopted by consensus, included a call for the consistent collection of data, awareness raising, options for the regulation of components, international technical assistance and cooperation, and victim assistance.Strengthening vigilance and national controls IEDs are often made with military- or commercially-sourced explosives. The General Assembly resolution calls for measures to be put in place to establish tighter controls over materials or components used for making IEDs. These controls could encompass national ammunition stockpiles[9] and industrially produced detonators, detonating cords and industrially produced explosives, e.g. for mining[10]Relevant industry and corporations could also be encouraged to engage in the regulation of pre-cursor and prefabricated components.

Enhancing information-sharing 
Because of the ad-hoc design of IEDs, there is an overriding need for States to share information on composition and production methods of captured IEDs including following IED attacks. The resolution underlines this necessity. Effective information sharing on IED designs and components between Member States has the potential to shorten the learning curve that military and security forces have to go through in order to identify and develop effective counter measures. Also, civilians will be protected better when effective information sharing on new IED designs leads to quicker neutralization.

Furthermore, the resolution highlights the need for increased assistance, better training, and improved international coordination. The Secretary-General is requested to prepare a report to the General Assembly on the issue, providing initial building blocks and recommendations for ways forward.

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), 2014




[5]Small Arms Survey, 2013.

[6]Expert Group under CCW Amended Protocol II, see:

[7]2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, section II.

[8] See the Global Shield Program launched jointly by WCO, Interpol and UNODC.

[9] The International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG), mandated by the General Assembly, provide guidance measures on how to secure conventional ammunition stockpiles (A/RES/63/61, A/RES/66/42).

[10] Industry and corporations could be encouraged to adhere to international guiding principles for the protection of human rights in conflict situations. See the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework (A/HRC/17/31).