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Manufactured explosive weapons are just as harmful as Improvised Explosive Devices to civilians in populated areas: a comment

One of the salient features of the debate around Explosive Weapons is that ‘the other guy’ causes more harm. This is inevitable in conflict. Whether it is the US condemning the Taliban, the Israelis condemning Hamas or the Azeris condemning the Armenians, there is invariably the argument that one side causes less or more civilian casualties than the other.

In an age of ‘asynchronous warfare’ such a debate usually takes the form that state actors harm less civilians than non-state actors when they drop their bombs. Clearly in some cases this is true. But if you assume, in the debate about explosive violence, that state actors use largely manufactured explosive weapons and non-state actors use improvised explosive weapons, the data from a decade of explosive violence harm globally – as recorded in English language media – shows that it is not a clear case of ‘good’ versus ‘bad.’

We know from AOAV’s global explosive violence dataset that between 2011 and 2021 there were, in total, some 28,829 explosive violence incidents globally from explosive violence, with 356,449 people (civilian and armed actors) in total killed and injured.

Of these, 92,445 were civilians killed and 169,227 civilians injured, totalling 261,672. So the total proportion of civilians harmed in both populated and lesser populated areas from explosive violence, was 73.4%.

As we know, though, explosive violence has a particularly deleterious impact on civilians when used in populated areas.

So, in populated areas, there were 17,380 incidents over the decade, with 263,107 total killed and injured, of which 82,153 were civilians killed and 156,081 civilians injured, totalling 238,234.

This means that when explosive weapons (of all types) were used in towns and cities, 90.6% of those harmed – as reported in English language media in over a decade of reporting – were civilians.

But what happens when you just look at manufactured weapons? The arsenal of explosive bombs and missiles that are the domain of State actors? Does that nine-out-of-ten ratio still stand?

Sadly, yes.

If you look at civilians killed or injured by explosive weapons when used in populated areas and exclude IEDs (car bombs and non-specific IEDs), you find that between 2011 and 2020, there were 11,577 incidents, with 139,798 total killed and injured.

Of these, 52,299 were civilians killed and 73,930 civilians injured, totalling 126,22.

This works out, proportionally, of civilians making up 90.3% of total killed or injured by manufactured explosive weapons in populated areas in the last decade.

So it seems that, yes, the 9 out of 10 figure of civilians harmed by explosive violence when such weapons are used in populated areas, is the same for manufactured bombs as it is for improvised.