Britain's armed forces are pushed to their limits and need more resources if they are to increase the nation's role in international affairs, Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, said yesterday.
"We are operating at the limits of our capabilities and it is important that it is recognised that there is a limit to what we can achieve," he said.
Mr Hoon's comments come after claims from the Conservatives that the armed forces are being asked to fulfil too many commitments around the world.
He told the BBC's On The Record television programme: "We're certainly stretched. I wouldn't actually use the word over-stretch at the present time.
"The difference is that we are operating to our maximum capability, that we are not at the moment, at any rate doing more than I judge reasonably, I can ask of our armed forces."
Mr Hoon added: "We clearly do have to respond to catastrophic humanitarian situations but equally we have to realise that there are always limits.
"There is only so much that a country of the size and resources of Britain can manage.
"Certainly, If we are going to engage more fully in the world, then obviously we will need the resources to achieve that. The balance will then change.
"There's always a balance to be struck between the available resources and what we can achieve. It's my job to do that on behalf of the Government, I have to try and get that right and try and balance the resources against the kind of commitments we have."
But he defended Britain's role as an international troubleshooter in places such as Sierra Leone. He said: "I don't believe that we've made grandiose promises. What we have done is set out Britain's responsibility in the world. We do have a responsibility ... That means that people in the United Kingdom say we must do something about this we must help."
Mr Hoon confirmed that members of the Territorial Army could have an increased role protecting Britain from possible terrorist attack.
Proposals for reshaping Britain's defences in response to the 11 September terrorist attacks will be announced on Thursday.
Mr Hoon said: "We should not be using regular armed forces, who clearly have a role and responsibility both within the UK but also increasingly importantly overseas, to protect installations where perhaps there mighty be a role and responsibility for our reservists.
"That's something we do need to have a debate about."Reuse content