Hopes of controlling arms sales to the Middle East are already receding as several key states develop plans to expand their military forces.

Although the U.S. Congress is anxious to develop an arms control regime, the Bush administration is now adopting a much more positive approach to arms exports. And American defense contractors are arguing that their economic survival is increasingly dependent on maximizing such exports.Saudi Arabia looks likely to be the main player in a new arms race and is using the experience during the war to expand its military forces to produce a markedly offensive posture.

Riyadh's plans include a substantial increase in strike aircraft and tanks coupled with an emphasis on the so-called "area-impact munitions" such as cluster bombs and multiple rocket launchers that caused such high casualties during the war.

The Bush administration favors a liberal arms export policy to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt as well as maintaining its close and generous defense links with Israel.

With the temporary eclipse of Iraq as a major military power, Israel is concerned about Syria's future military posture, especially as Damascus has recently purchased additional Scud missiles from North Korea. For the Saudis, Iran's improved status in the region is a cause for concern.

The debate in Washington will stretch through until the autumn, but analysts believe that Congress will do little more than curb a few programs. Pressure from the arms manufacturers, and from constituents working for them, it is believed, will ensure that the Middle East allies will get almost all they require.

Certainly, the prospect of a general ban on arms exports to the Middle East is now off the agenda. Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said:

"Some caution is in order here but our first concern is to work with our friends and allies to be sure they are secure. I do not think an arms embargo in and of itself is a good thing if it keeps the Egyptians or the Israelis or the Saudis undefended."

Last week, the Pentagon's coordinator for arms sales to the Gulf Co-operation Council, Brig. Gen. Dennis Malcor, went to Riyadh at the start of a monthlong visit to work out an arms shopping list with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the smaller gulf states. This will lead to a foreign military sales plan to be presented to Congress later in the summer.

During the war, the U.S. Army fired 10,000 MLRS missiles and the British Army another 2,500.

The use of massive firepower by coalition forces is expected to lead to a rapid proliferation of these weapons in the Middle East.

Apart from the Saudi re-armament program, Egypt is also seeking to buy Rockeye cluster bombs and Israel already produces a wide range of similar bombs as well as fuel-air explosives and multiple rocket launch systems.

While public opinion has been largely concerned with the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons, the new generation of area-impact munitions is spreading rapidly around the world.

As well as the major industrialized countries and Israel, many other countries are developing and producing these weapons, including Chile, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and India.

Apart from the idea of a UN register of arms transfers, which does not involve any formal control of sales, there are no plans to develop arms control negotiations for conventional weapons.

Conventional military firepower is being revolutionized by the new systems and was used to devastating effect in the gulf, killing tens of thousands of people in six weeks. It now looks set to proliferate throughout the Middle East in the wake of the war.