Just as the crisis in the Middle East has begun to alter the political and military map of the world, so, too, does it promise to recast the economic landscape -- straining countries and businesses with large amounts of debt, transferring additional wealth from oil consumers to oil producers, shifting investment from stocks to bonds and causing economic growth to slow worldwide.

And no matter how fast a resolution there is to the crisis in the Persian Gulf, most economists and business leaders believe that the damage to the world economy could be long-lasting.

"When the military dust settles in the Middle East, the economic consequences will still be with us," said Roger Altman, a partner in the New York-based Blackstone Group and a Treasury official during the Carter administration. "There is no way, even if {Iraqi President} Saddam Hussein apologizes and returns to Baghdad on his knees, that the situation will return to the way it was. This has touched off deep worries and confirmed a lot of people's fears."

Added Altman: "This whole situation is an economic crisis for the {Bush} administration as well as a military crisis."

Mere uncertainty about the future has shaken consumer and business confidence worldwide, throwing consumer spending and business investment into doubt and increasing the chances of a recession in the United States.

If people can't be sure what the next 24 hours will bring, much less the next year or two, they aren't likely to make any big commitments. The anecdotal evidence gathered from around the nation is that, for the moment, many consumers are postponing purchases of homes and cars, and business executives are cutting back on capital investments and staff sizes to prepare for harder times.

A number of polls in recent weeks show that a majority of both consumers and executives now expect a recession.

On financial markets, many investors are converting their holdings to cash, both to avoid further losses in the value of stock and bond holdings as market prices decline, but also to be in a good position to lock in long-term interest rates that now are heading up.

Should a stalemate give way to fighting in the Middle East, uncertainty will give way to much worse. The result could be a world economic realignment similar to that which occurred after the oil crisis of the early 1970s.

The effects could include a shift of billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and other oil producers; a crippling blow for developing countries that don't produce oil; a drain of billions of dollars from consumer spending and business investment in industrialized nations to pay for steeper oil prices and higher interest rates; and a resurgence of inflation in industrialized countries, a cut in growth rates and the possible return of 1970s-style stagflation.

Perhaps the clearest manifestation of the uncertainty that has gripped the world's economy is the rapid increase in interest rates. The U.S. Treasury's 30-year bond was yielding 9.16 percent when the bond markets closed Friday in New York, up about 0.65 percentage points this month.

Similar increases have occurred in West Germany and London. In Japan, the era of 2 percent and 3 percent money has given way to a previously unheard of long-term prime interest rate of 8.5 percent.

Investment, whether in stocks, bonds or other assets, represents a commitment for the future, so the greater the uncertainty, the greater premium demanded by the investor.

"There is a cost to uncertainty," said Shafiqual Islam, an expert on international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

"Consumer and business confidence is affected by a prolonged stalemate," he said, adding that "the cloud of uncertainty makes it difficult for people to make decisions based on a new reality."

In the developing world, a new reality that includes $30 a barrel oil would be "an unmitigated disaster," Islam said.

When the first oil crisis hit in 1973, developing nations consumed 18 percent of world's oil supplies and many were able to borrow money to cover the added costs of more expensive energy. Today, those countries consume 28 percent of the world's oil output and many already are so deeply in debt -- or in default -- that additional borrowing is impossible.

In addition, because developing countries haven't been able to afford investments in conservation and alternate energy technologies, their economic growth still is closely linked to oil consumption. Industrialized countries, by contrast, have lowered the energy used for every unit of economic growth.

Over the next 10 years, developing countries are expected to increase oil consumption by 57 percent while industrialized countries are expected to increase oil consumption by 27 percent.

There also are indirect effects.

Increased inflation in industrialized countries will raise the cost of finished goods imported by developing countries. Higher interest rates will increase the cost of servicing foreign debt. And any world economic slowdown will lower the demand and the prices for products developing countries manufacture and grow.

Ghana is a good case in point.

In 1983, Ghana used up 90 percent of export earnings to service its foreign debt and pay its oil import bills. The country embarked on a disciplined and at times painful economic reformation, and by last year the West African nation had managed cut its oil import bill to 11 percent of exports and its debt service to just 30 percent.

But the new economic conditions could push those two numbers way up and cut earnings from cocoa, the country's main export.

Despite tough sacrifices made in the last five years, Ghanaians could wind up in the same impoverished condition they were in eight years ago.

While bad news for the world's smallest economies, the fallout Persian Gulf crisis could be bad news for the world's biggest economy -- the United States.

Felix Rohatyn, an investment banker with Lazard Freres in New York, warns that the crisis could push the United States closer to recession and reveal long neglected problems in the U.S. economy.

"We are going into this with significant weaknesses in our financial system in large part due to the fact that we have been abusing our financial credit system for a decade," he said.

Rohatyn points out that while U.S. industry has become more energy efficient since the first oil crisis, the overall economy is more vulnerable because another oil price crisis would increase interest costs and reduce revenue for corporations, government and individuals who are significantly more in debt than they've ever been.

Much of the money for those debts was borrowed in anticipation of higher sales and incomes and profits that now seem uncertain.

According to Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., the interest burden of U.S. businesses has risen to an average 25.7 percent of cash flow, up from 19.9 percent in 1983 and up even farther from historic averages.

"With the possibility of recession rising, long-standing questions about how well U.S. corporations can withstand the pressures of meeting their debt burdens may soon be answered," Merrill Lynch said in its weekly market commentary.

The securities house warned that "nonfinancial corporations seem ill-equipped to cope with their debt burdens in a recession, and the nondurables and trade sectors could be particularly vulnerable."

Not surprisingly, the prices plunged last week for the high-risk, high-yield junk bonds issued by companies saddled with heavy debt burdens.

Moreover, the ability of the U.S. government to respond to this economic crisis is extremely limited. The federal government has been running up the largest peacetime deficits in the nation's history, making it more difficult to pump up the economy by increasing spending further.

In other nations, the Persian Gulf crisis looms as a problem, too.

In Eastern Europe, an increase in oil prices would be a unwelcome shock for countries already struggling to adjust to life without Soviet energy subsidies and sharp price increases caused by the end of other government subsidies.

Many of these countries also had counted on infusions of capital from the investors in the United States and Western Europe who may now find themselves distracted by the threat of economic slowdown and unwilling to make what are, at best, risky new long-term investments.

In Japan, stock markets have tumbled 35 percent this year, raising fears about the viability of some major investors and banks.

But most analysts said that with its continued rate of brisk economic growth, continuing trade surpluses and big petroleum reserves, Japan is relatively well-positioned to weather the crisis.

Even for some oil-producing countries, the fallout from the Persian Gulf crisis may be bad.

Mexico, for example, would receive much more revenue from oil exports. But after years of economic reforms in Mexico, oil revenue accounts for only half of Mexico's export earnings.

As a result, gains in oil income would be largely offset by decreased demand for other Mexican exports.

"Even here, the oil price increase is not a clear-cut blessing," Islam said.

Perhaps the only place where the Persian Gulf crisis is good economic news is Saudi Arabia, which through a combination of increased oil output and higher oil prices could earn an extra $11 billion this year and an additional $33 billion next year in the wake of the crisis.

Those figures are based on an assumption that the price of a 42-gallon barrel of crude oil would drop from their current levels of $31 a barrel to a more reasonable $25.

A portion of that money would flow out of the kingdom to compensate countries like Turkey or Jordan for participation in the international embargo of Iraq.

Another chunk would go toward paying part of the costs of the U.S. forces and for new military equipment.

"Along with higher revenues, Saudi Arabia will face higher expenses," said Sharif Ghalib of the Institute of International Finance in Washington. "We're talking about some very large numbers in military spending."

But much of the increased revenue would go toward reversing the decline in Saudi financial reserves, which have dwindled to about $25 billion since the kingdom began running overall trade deficits in 1982.

Those reserves would flow largely back into the banking system in London and New York, eventually providing capital to governments and businesses around the world.

But as it did in the 1970s, this process of recycling petrodollars will have a permanent and profound effect of transferring wealth to those countries which, by dint of luck or ingenuity, are able to produce more energy than they consume.