The recent spat between Admiral Brownship, General Brownjob, Mr Brown the Prime minister, Mr Browne the Defence Minister and Captain Darling the Chancellor (Where was Colonel Mustard?) about the size of the British Defence Budge was a classic example of ignoring the elephant in the room. Yes, the British defence budget is too small to support forces capable of fighting two pointless foreign wars simultaneously. Yes, the British defence budget is the second highest in NATO and must compete with other public services for available funds. Well done everybody! Could the answer perhaps be that Britain can't afford to fight two foreign wars simultaneously? O Woes, we haz no Empire.
Neither side will bring up the elephant of course as the military chiefs would advocate larger armed forces whatever the level of commitment and British politicians seem to have some, probably Freudian, need to prove their potency on the world stage especially if there is an American dick to use for comparison.
Britain has been trying to play a role on the world stage greater than its economy can support for at least 100 years. The army and navy of 1914 put a huge strain on the national finances even then. Since then war has become impossibly expensive. It always has been of course but I'm not sure Joe Punter realises by how much. Measuringworth.com
claims that the purchasing power of a pound in 1914 was the same as 66 pounds today. Bear that in mind. The cost of fully equipping an infantry battalion in 1914 was less than a million pounds (quite a lot less). Today it's over a billion pounds. That's an increase of more than 1000 times as much or 15 times as much at constant purchasing power. One can produce even more dramatic figures for things like fighter aircraft.
What this means is that, in real terms, the British taxpayer is contributing more than two and a half times as much in real terms to maintain the 20 deployable infantry battalions of today (fn1) as they were to maintaining the 120 battalions of 1914. Clearly, a second class economy on the fringes of Europe can't hope to outspend in real terms a world empire but that seems to be the intention. It doesn't make sense.
Note 1. There are forty infantry battalions on the current British Army Orbat. However, there is only enough kit to deploy about half of them in a role in which they could do serious fighting (actually it's a bit less; probably 17 battalions). The rest would be equipped with hand held weapons and Land Rovers. They would have fewer heavy weapons than a battalion in 1939.