The government's response to the Thursday attack by the defence chiefs was to claim that Britain has the second-highest defence spending in the world. It was a new one to me. Does Britain really outspend Russia
, with its phenomenal ballistic output? Or China, the communist superpower whose soaring military budget
is deeply unnerving the Pentagon? How did Des Browne conjure up the figure?
My inquiries have established that the MoD has used the old accounting fiddle of using unadjusted (and, therefore, misleading) currency translations. As any fule kno, the only way to do any meaningful international comparisons is to use purchasing power parity (PPP) measures – adjusted for how much arms their money can go. What China spends, for example, may not buy much more than half a Eurofighter in Britain. But at home it's enough for 1.6m troops and 7,100 tanks: substantially ahead of a British Army which has fewer troops than at any time since the 19th century. (And did I mention that we're fighting two wars?)
I actually have the raw workings of the MoD on this one. It's from the Stockholm Peace Institute, available on PDF here
. The dodgy (MER Dollar) figures which Des Browne gave to us are on the left, and the real (PPP) figures which he didn't give us are on the right. Old Des obviously learnt a trick or two during the year he spent working for Brown at the Treasury.