Meeting with the presidents of serveral arms companies in California, Anthony Sampson noticed that "there was hardly a woman in sight. The arms companies are still male strong-bolds."

As he points out in his new book, "The Arms Bazaar: From Lockheel to Lebanon," Sampson is convinced that the machismo factor plays a big role in the arms race.

"The atavistic appeal of arms to the male psyche cannot be ignored," says the British journalist, as he drinks a breakfast of coffee with cream at the Jefferson Hotel. "The missiles and machine guns and the sexy roar of the Tigers still hold their phallic spell whether in Iran or Los Angeles."

A former correspondent for The Observer, Sampson hit big in 1973 with the international best seller "The Sovereign State of ITT," which chronicled the corporation's history, including its links with Nazi Germany. The new book, which completes a trilogy on international business, analyzes the development of giant arms corporations and the men who run them.

"It's much easier to write an international book than to be an international journalist," Sampson says. "When writing about business. I think in terms of the people and try to get inside the minds of the characters."

It was as a journalist that Sampson was allowed to look through files of documents containing wartime conversations between ITT and its branches abroad. This formed the basis of his book on ITT.

While Sampson feels that on the one hand, the key to researching anything in the United States is finding the right documents, he does acknowledge his extra adge. "The advantage of journalists over academics is the freedom to talk and exploit the pull," explains Sampson, adding that "having been there at a particular time helps, too."

A study of the major oil companies, "The Seven Sisters," appeared in 1975. As part of his research for the book, Sampson traveled to Iran to meet with the shah. It was then that he gained insight into the exchange of oil and arms that was occurring between the United States and the oil-rich countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

"Yes, the shah is obsessed with his arsenal of weapons and feels that Iran is entitled to an arsenal as big as the European powers," says Sampson. he finds it extremely disturbing that the shah has been able to cast a type of magical spell over American Presidents as far back as Lyndon Johnson to seduce them to sell him weapons, "I guess the reason is partly psychological," says Smampson. "The shah has a kind of 19th-century resonance to him, being an absolute monarch, kind of like Bismarck."

Today, the United States is responsible for more than one-half of the worldwide arms traffic. The prevailing arguments for continuing the weapon sales contends that if the U.S. does not sell arms to developing countries, someone else will. Sampson finds the contention completely absurd. "For the U.S. which is constantly expanding its trade, to espouse that argument is foolish," Sampson says angrily. "You must do something yourself first."

And Sampson avers that Washington is quite capable of putting pressure on the European powers to stop selling arms, but for a slight price. With a slight twinkle in his eye, Sampson offers the exchange he had in mind, "the Concorde."

Contemplating a world with no amrs sales, Sampson angrily denies that California, holding more defense contracts than any other state in the nation, would go down the drain.

"Gearing an economy of one state to an unstable industry like aerospace industry is crazy," he says. And can the Middle East afford peace? "With peace, both sides would be more disunited," smiles Sampson, "and the world would be a lot safer."