Newsmakers: The Front Line

Shane Smith and Vivian McAlister

Improvised explosive devices are just as deadly in warfare as landmines, according to a Western-led study that was published this year.

At one point in history, a soldier in combat would have been injured with a bow and arrow. That bow and arrow eventually became a bullet, and in the 1890s, that bullet evolved into the ‘dum-dum bullet,’ designed to expand on impact and inflict severe injury. Because of its potential to gravely wound combatants, The Hague Convention of 1899 prohibited the use of the dum-dum bullet in international warfare.



A century later, landmines, designed to maim and injure, rather than kill, were deemed indiscriminate weapons with potential to inflict serious injury. After a high-profile campaign waged by a coalition of non-governmental organizations, 162 countries signed the 1997 Ottawa Treaty pledging to stop their production and use.

Today, a far more dangerous weapon in use on the battlefield – the improvised explosive device or IED – needs to join the ranks of prohibited weapons, according to an international research team led by Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry Surgery professors Shane Smith and Vivian McAlister. The group’s study of the weapon and its impact – Injury profile suffered by targets of antipersonnel improvised explosive devices: prospective cohort study – was published in September in the journal BMJ Open.

IEDs have replaced landmines in modern warfare. While they are often portrayed as primitive and crude weapons, they have evolved and are sophisticated, directed and destructive, according to researchers.