The Great Lakes Invitational Conference Association

Countering the Threat Posed by Improvised Explosive Devices

Countering the Threat Posed by Improvised Explosive Devices

An Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, is commonly defined as a device placed or fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating destructive, lethal, noxious, pyrotechnic, or incendiary chemicals and designed to destroy, incapacitate, harass, or distract. Although IEDs have historically been used as far back as the First World War, they became truly widespread in the hands of various non-state terrorist groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda at the turn of the century. Between 2011 and 2013, during the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 53,000 civilians were killed or injured by IEDs. IEDs can be built using common materials, but most effective devices are sourced from conventional munitions which are plentiful in active or recently active military hot spots. Commercial materials such as fertilizer, bleach, brake fluid, or cleaning solvents can also be used as catalysts for explosions in IEDs. Their flexible design and ease of creation provide tactical advantages for their users and tactical nightmares for the international community.


As the use of IEDs by non-state actors and terror groups grows, the threat they pose on victims and nations looms over policy makers and civilians alike. While the risk of IED detonation in active conflict zones is obvious, it must also be noted that the end of conflict does not bring the end of this risk. Like landmines, undetonated IEDs can remain scattered in unexpected places, difficult to see and putting innocent lives at risk. Because of the simplicity of manufacture and ability to create a functioning device out of common goods, it becomes difficult to eradicate IEDs without creating unnecessary limitations on civilians. Nevertheless, it is possible to regulate the distribution and sale of source materials for these devices, such as fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate or urea nitrate, hydrogen peroxide, or ethylene glycol dinitrate. The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons also amended its second Protocol in 1996 to categorize IEDs under the purview of “Other devices,” thus banning their use by the 115 nations who ratified the CCW.


This committee should discuss the ability of the United Nations to combat the proliferation of improvised explosive devices, especially as it pertains to nations’ responses to asymmetric conflicts. Most use cases occur at the hands of non-state actors, and tactical responses do not seem to have an effect on these groups. Potential solutions could include funding development of counter-IED (C-IED) efforts, which strengthen military vehicles and facilities to be resistant against attacks using these devices. Another solution could be increasing efforts to limit movement of materials commonly used in the creation of IEDs, including both chemical agents and military scrap materials left over from previous wars/conflicts. Post-conflict cleanup of IEDs should also be on the agenda. Finally, addressing the international flow of capital and trade from states to non-state actors could limit their capacity to produce these indiscriminate devices. All options are available, and it is up to this committee to decide the best course of action and combination of strategies, to prevent their continued use through diplomatic and political discourse.

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