The strategic contours of war in the early twenty-first century have not been as decisively shaped by technology as our own belief in the remorselessness and acceleration of innovation suggests. This is not to say that the machine has not had a public and highly charged impact on warfare. In the British case, claims that the British army in Iraq was forced to soldier with inadequate body armour, ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers rather than properly armoured vehicles and insufficient helicopters made equipment the stuff of headline comment and cross-party accusation. These were issues because in Iraq and increasingly in Afghanistan improvised explosive devices (IEDs) became the major cause of deaths and serious wounds among coalition forces. What were initially quite crude devices became more sophisticated as coalition forces responded by improving their own measures for force protection, not least by increasing the armour on their vehicles and by travelling by helicopter rather than by road, and as counter-IED devices and detection improved. It can be argued that IEDs had a strategic effect. The horrific wounds that they inflicted, particularly but not only to the lower limbs, fed the public image of the soldier as the victim of an unthinking and uncaring government, and so stoked the appetite for withdrawal regardless of whether the intended outcome of the war had been reached. But, in that case, the IED itself remained only a means, and the ways to its effectiveness were its propaganda effect. The transformation in media technologies (through the internet and mobile telephones), and the consequent democratisation of ‘strategic communications’, meant that the dissemination of news and opinion no longer occurred exclusively (or even principally) through the press and the politicians, but now belonged to the people.
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