The Ministry of Defence has anti-vehicle mines, but has not bothered to find out that a skipping child could easily explode them

The Ministry of Defence has long been regarded as a pimp for the arms industry in Britain. Not only does the MoD tout the wares of the gun whores before cabinet, but successive ministers have eagerly pushed the interests of the bangs-for-bucks brigade abroad, even knuckling down to give a bit of corporate head themselves when the need arises. (Anyone who knows what the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, looks like will be glad that this image is of a purely metaphorical nature. Those who can recall the slack bulldog jaw and jowls of Hoon's predecessor, George Robertson, will be even gladder.)

Yet no one at the MoD has ever bothered to answer the simple question: how has the defence of Britain been enhanced by assisting arms sales to regimes such as that of Indonesia?

I can't find a positive answer to that one, but I do know that if flogging weapons to dodgy bastards aids our defence, then Britain is indeed secure. In fact, now that Tony Blair has backed the BAe Systems arms deal to Tanzania, I am sure we will all sleep sounder in our beds, safe in the knowledge that the Hun-paratrooper-ninja-frog-wop-al-Qaeda bastards won't dare get us.

This latest pimping fiasco allows BAe Systems to sell a £28m military-compatible air traffic control system to Tanzania, and shows the commitment of Blair and Hoon to the arms industry.

Bad loans and the backing of prestige projects in the 1970s set off the cycle of debt for many African states. So there is a sickening ring of familiarity to the way a country that has just been granted debt relief of £1.4bn burdens itself with such overly expensive and unnecessary equipment.

Tanzania has fewer than ten military planes: the country doesn't need a £28m air traffic control package - in fact, it could probably get by with a bloke at the end of the runway holding a big flag and shouting "Come in, number five" through a very loud megaphone.

There are many statistics that illustrate the plight of the people of Tanzania: for example, more than half of the rural poor have no access to clean water or healthcare; the mortality rate of children under the age of five is one in four; the country's per capita income is £200 a head. However, the two most telling points are these: first, the World Bank criticised the BAe air traffic control package as too expensive; second, Robin Cook blocked the package when he was Secretary of State at the Foreign Office. When a deal is condemned by the World Bank and deemed unethical by Robin Cook, it is fair to say that it must be truly evil, just as it is reasonable to argue that any arms deal backed by Blair, Hoon and Jack Straw must be pretty evil.

Had Hoon not been hell-bent on backing his corporate buddies and pushing the BAe Systems export licence through the cabinet, he might have had time to read Civilian Footsteps, a report published recently by Landmine Action. This report shows that the MoD is acting in breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of the 1997 Ottawa Convention, which banned the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti- personnel mines.

Anti-personnel mines do what they say on the tin: they are mines and they are most definitely anti-personnel. Each year, landmines kill and injure about 250,000 people - mainly civilians, who are left to pay the price once a conflict has moved on. Landmine Action states that Britain "continues to use, manufacture and develop mines which the government argues are not banned although they can be accidentally exploded by civilians". One of these types of mine is the anti-vehicle mine (AVM), commonly known as the anti-tank mine.

AVMs are designed to detonate when a certain amount of pressure is exerted upon them. So, in theory, the weight of a tank will set off such a mine, although the weight of a human being will not.

You would expect the MoD, since it has these mines, to have taken the trouble to calculate which everyday human activities could explode them, and then to have set the detonation mechanism accordingly, thus ensuring that mines are not "anti-personnel". It is not unreasonable to expect a government department with a budget of millions, a nuclear capacity and the ability to deploy thousands of armed men and women to find out if its equipment could result in civilian casualties.

Unreasonable? No.

Wishful thinking? Yes.

It was up to the Sports Biomechanics Research Group at Loughborough University to show, in its Landmine Action report, that simple human activities such as jumping from the back of a light goods vehicle can exert enough pressure to detonate an AVM. More alarmingly, the researchers found that "a child can quite easily, while skipping for instance, exert downward forces in excess of a common AVM initiation pressure of 150kg".

So the MoD has mines that could be detonated by children playing and it hasn't even bothered to look into this. "We are constantly coming across people who have been blown up by AVMs," said Rae McGrath of Landmine Action. "A classic situation is a truck full of refugees being blown up by these things."

Hoon has refused to talk directly to Landmine Action, the only group that has bothered to do the research his department should have done. Meanwhile, BAe Systems is involved in the consortium that is developing the MoD's next generation of mines, the Multiple Launch Rocket System, which will include AVMs.

I am sure the Defence Secretary will do all he can for the company.