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What if the USSR had won the cold war?
Before considering this
question, I would like to define a victory.
The US/NATO alliance did not march through Poland, Byelorussia and Russia
to reach Moscow and tear down the Kremlin, as Hitler and Napoleon attempted to
do, but in fact was dedicated to the purpose of blocking further soviet
expansion by armed force.
The Warsaw Pact, on the
other hand, was dedicated to maintaining vast military forces with the intention
that one day they would be sent across the border into West Germany and defeat
NATO. Unlike NATO, the Warsaw Pact
kept the militaries of the involved nations under the control of the USSR and
prepared them for the expected war, until the last days of the cold war, there
were no plans to repel a NATO offensive, nor was one expected.
The chances that the
USSR's armed forces had against NATO's remain the domain of wargamers and
alternate history writers. The slight
problem with any WW3 scenario after 1960ish is that while the USSR might well
have smashed the NATO conventional forces, NATO still had massive numbers of
nuclear weapons and the will to use them. Even
if only Britain and France deployed nukes, the Warsaw Pact would be destroyed,
while some of their retaliation would have been aimed at the USA anyway.
The result of the US's
'victory' in the cold war is effective world hegemony.
I therefore intend to look for possibilities that would put the USSR in
that position instead of the USA.
Better living conditions within the USSR?
The USSR was a hugely inefficient machine, it had problems with food
delivery, health care, and all the rights guaranteed to the citizens that the
system could not meet. (Note: 'could not', not 'would not'.) The problems involved with building up a massive industry and
enforcing communist doctrine destroyed many of the food supply sources and
damaged the very backbone of food supplies.
The Polish demands for food and freedom were in that order.
There were several ideas
proposed to solve that problem. Farming
on a more efficient scale - effectively allowing small independent farmers -
would have vastly increased the quantity of food available to the USSR.
Even just doing that in Poland alone would head off much of the popular
discontent and make the government (s) very popular.
Making the people happier means that there would be less problems in
industry, as well as a system of rewards - perhaps someone reads about the
Hawthorne Effect - that reward small, but definite, improvements.
How much effect would
these have had? They might well
keep the USSR going longer, but I don't think it would change the outcome that
much, largely because the USA can still outspend them. Therefore, we end up with a longer cold war instead of a
collapse by either side.
An attempt by the communist underground to take power in the USA?
This is one of the most discussed possibilities and probably the most
unlikely. The communist underground
was fragmented, diverse and largely distrusted.
Let's just dismiss that possibility.
The USA self-destructs?
A scenario in which the US has a prolonged period of instability - even
a near civil war - during the 1980s is not as impossible as you might suppose.
A civil war of USCW intensity is quite unlikely, but massive disruption
is not impossible. I'm going to assume that one of the major cracks in
American society - the treatment of black Americans - blows open in the
years after Vietnam. One of the
main reasons it did not was the introduction of the Civil Rights Act in 1964,
which had the original purpose of protecting black men from job (and other)
discrimination, but at the last minute, in an attempt to kill the bill, it was
expanded to include protection for women. Much
to the horror of the white conservatives and the surprise of many people, the
bill passed. What if it had not?
The years after Vietnam
saw the US entering a moral depression, ex-soldiers were unwanted and often made
to feel like they were villains. Most
importantly, there were thousands of black troopers who had survived an attempt
to secure freedom and justice for the Vietnamese and returned to a nation that
still treated them as third class citizens.
Without the CRA, that will be a lot worse and they have the training and
experience to lash out at their tormentors.
Violence explodes across the south.
After a lot of confused
underground fighting, there would probably be a crackdown by the federal
government, but not one that could hold for long. The north might well be reluctant to send its national guard
to fight in the south, while the southern governors would probably play down the
danger as to admit its seriousness would mean admitting that the blacks were a
The belief that black
people are simple would send most of the south looking for another group to
blame. They'd probably blame
communists, civil rights activists and even Jews for the disturbances and force
a crackdown on any organisation with communist associations.
These might include left-wing newspapers, unions, strikers and more.
The result of these problems would probably mean massive economic
problems and a reluctance to station military units overseas when there are
serious problems at home - not to mention that the troops would be worried
about their families. 1980 would
see a draw down of US overseas commitments.
The European reaction the
effective ending of the US commitments to Europe would be forced by the need to
maintain a conventional deterrent. They
would need to merge their forces faster and build-up their own forces.
They may be able to build better equipment or purchase the leaving US
troops equipment, but they'd have problems maintaining any overseas forces.
The EU would be driven by the need to hold off the USSR's forces -
like Finland, they need to aim to have the forces needed to make any
conventional attempt to invade too costly and have the ability to destroy the
USSR as a last resort. Japan, South
Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan (?) would be forced to band together,
while the Turks, Israelis and the Greeks would also need to make some
arrangements for mutual defence.
Effectively, the USSR has
won the cold war, a position of unchallenged global dominance, with the other
major players only able to defend themselves, but not prevent the USSR from
taking anywhere else.
A Euro-Russia War? Contrary
to a lot of propaganda, I do not think that the USSR would march across the
border into West Germany when the US withdrew from the region. I
base this on a number of facts about the history of Russian Empires, no matter
the binding factor:
I suspect that the
Russians would be content to leave the Europeans alone if they recognised
Russian paramoncy in their part of the world.
A Europe that was weakened by a communist underground - we're
probably lucky that the USA does not have an international party - might be a
target, but the Russians would probably be better off keeping them as trading
East/Central Asia: I
suspect that the USSR would have taken the chance to strengthen its position in
the region, much like the US has been doing and probably in a similar manner.
Many individuals in the USSR armed forces considered an invasion of Iran
to wipe out the fundamentalists they blamed for inciting rebellion within the
Moslem republics. Using Saddam as a
cat's paw would have seemed a natural key (the USSR and Saddam having had very
close contacts at times) and, with USSR support, the invasion would probably
have been a success. An Iraq ruling
or influencing much of the Middle East might have provoked a showdown with
Israel, but Saddam was hesitant, in OTL, to invade or support.
(To be fair, Jordan and Syria were very keen that Iraqi troops stayed out
of their territory.) I suspect that the USSR would pressure him not to start a war
that might turn nuclear.
Afghanistan is an
interesting question. The USSR
invaded in 1979 and managed to hold much of the country for a long time.
If the USA is not shipping supplies to the resistance and the USSR has no
impediment to the more extreme suggestions (such as mass nerve gas, biological
warfare and nuclear dust), it is not impossible to imagine a USSR victory in the
nation. Quite how much of
Afghanistan would remain, of course, is another question.
The Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics: How
would the USSR handle a victory in the cold war?
I've already described the most likely outcomes in Europe and the
Middle East, but not the inside of the USSR.
The USSR will be in a
much stronger economic position. The
USSR would not have had to build masses of advanced weapons to counter the Regan
build-up and to study all the possible ABM systems that the Americans might be
deploying. That alone would free up
huge amounts of manpower and resources to feed the nation and build the
infrastructure. The soviets were
fairly good at large projects, so a massive farm development program might well,
on the face of it, have managed to feed the soviet citizens.
A failure to do so, after the 'defeat' of the United States, would
have meant that the USSR would have broken its promise to restore food after the
cold war was won. The outcome of
this, as the USSR leaders knew well, would be civil unrest in a situation too
like 1919 for comfort.
In this timeline,
Gorbachev would have had the opportunity to make changes without being swept
away by the unleashed forces. The
'failure' of capitalism would make a planned economy more popular and the
reduction of military power would mean more people to work the lands.
The problem, as many of the OTL people found, would be the need to find
people who had the skills and willingness to work well.
In OTL, most of them had died or given up by the collapse of the USSR.
Other food supplies could come from trading with outside nations, oil,
arms and natural gas for food.
Just how the USSR would
have related to the eastern bloc is questionable. They might well have allowed them to flirt with limited
freedom (perhaps not Germany, though) and they would have encouraged
agriculture. One mistake of
Stalin's - although it was probably unavoidable - was to develop Russian
nationalism at the expense of the other nationalities.
(One Example: The commander
and the senior officers of the Warsaw Pact were always Russian - like
the British Indian army, but with less mutual respect.)
Basically, loyalty to the USSR faded and became opposition to Russian
power, which was used instead of the ideal of the USSR.
The reduced need for military domination could mean that more important
places could be found for the other nations and perhaps expand the USSR.
There are darker
possibilities. The USSR might well
decide that the virtual elimination of the military threat from the west allowed
them to colonise the eastern bloc. The
Russians did have a strong presence in Poland anyway and moving far more people
into the region - displacing the original inhabitants - would allow them to
become a majority in the subject nations. Russian immigrants with an incentive to fight to stay there,
backed up by the power of the Red Army, would make the Russian position
stronger. The flood of escapees to
the west might destabilise the EU, while military action would be conducted
against overwhelming odds.
Still Global Disorder
- Trouble in the Far East?
Something that struck me as funny - although probably for the wrong
reasons - is that the super-USSR would have still faced a nuclear weapons
proliferation crisis, although in a different region.
The absence of American forces would have opened the gates to the
possibility of a three-sided conflict in the Far East.
The only real obstacle to
a North Korean invasion of South Korea was the presence of American troops and
the certainty of war with America. If
the American troops were to be withdrawn, the NKs would almost certainly
consider a war of reunification. As
the NKs were partly soviet allies, China would be severely concerned, as would
Japan. China, which had only a
handful of nuclear weapons, probably could not have matched the USSR in military
power - particularly if they launched a disastrous invasion of Taiwan - and
the USSR would be severely tempted to launch a pre-emptive strike on their
Certainly, a reunified
Korea, under either Chinese or Russian supervision, would be a dagger pointed at
Japan. I suspect that the Japanese
would work desperately to build up their defensive capabilities and develop
nukes - perhaps in collaboration with Australia, the EU and Taiwan -
although an invasion would be severely difficult with the forces available to
any 1980 military. Japan would
probably hit an economic recession without American trade, which would, as in
1931, spark a nationalist revival. In
the long run, a nationalist Japan may be a more serious threat to world peace
than China or the USSR.
It's easy to imagine a
scenario. NK invades SK (perhaps
with Russian go-ahead, but probably not, although the Chinese will claim that
they did). The invasion becomes a
meatgrinder, but the North Koreans are slowly winning.
The Russians see them as the winners and supply arms and advisors,
perhaps even a few dozen officers to gain experience.
Japan becomes seriously concerned and quietly supports the South Koreans,
as well as having quiet talks with Taiwan.
The Chinese catch on to this and suspect a conspiracy between the
Japanese, the Russians and the Taiwanese. They
demand that the Russians and Japanese stop supporting their Koreans. They also start a nuclear build-up and menace Taiwan with air
The Russians get very
paranoid about the Chinese nukes. At
present, the Chinese can do limited damage to Russia, but if they build up to
equality (or enough to hit all of the Russian cities), the Russians would be
defeated. They demand that the
Chinese open their nuclear facilities and destroy their current stock of
weapons. Meanwhile, the Japanese
move some air units to Taiwan and support the Taiwanese air force.
The Chinese refuse to
surrender their nukes and launch what is intended to be a quick invasion of
Taiwan. It fails miserably and the
Chinese suffer from severe demoralisation.
The Russians mass their forces on the border and the Chinese threaten
nuclear retaliation for invasion. Russia
targets its ICBMs on the Chinese nukes.
Place your bets here.
The Russians have better tanks, better technology and a strong morale,
due to centuries of hatred of the east. The
Chinese have masses of humanity as cannon fodder and a considerable defence in
depth. The naval losses at Taiwan would be a pinprick to the Chinese
masses. On the other hand, the
communist party was making itself unpopular - though would the Russians
support an anti-commie movement? In
addition, there would be some feeling that it would be better to lie down and
wait for the Russians to tire. Unless
the Chinese launch a nuke or two at Japan and Taiwan, they'd be sideshows to
the main conflict at best. Cooperation
with the Russians, no matter how willing, would be limited by the small manpower
of the two island powers. I suspect
that if they received recognition of Taiwan, they'd stay out of the conflict.
It's also hard to see
the USSR putting up with Saudi-sponsored terrorism. In such circumstances, I'd expect Saddam to be permitted to
invade and grind them out of existence - Saddam would be a much better tool
than any afghan. Super-Iraq would
end up ruling most of the Middle East (apart from Israel) and the terrorists
would have to fight him first.
Quite what would happen
to the US in this scenario is unknown. The
US would probably remain dominant in the American continent and would try to
keep soviet influence out of Latin America.
As the US would be a more powerful competitor to the USSR (compared to
OTL's Russian Federation), the USSR would be unlikely to risk war over Cuba or
Niagara. The sleeping giant should
be left to sleep. My best guess is
that there would be a number of compromises made to end the unrest and the US
would become more isolationist.
I suspect that in the
very long term Russia would become democratic.
While the communists would have had a chance to fulfil their social
contract, repression and stifling dissent look less important as years go by,
eventually even the worst dictatorships give up. However, if the CP really managed to feed the people, they
would have a legacy of goodwill that would keep them in power for a long time.
A Russia that finally managed to fulfil its potential would alter the
shape of the earth's politics forever.
would have probably slowed down a little as the world changes.
Without the US as a major player, the Internet might take longer to
become powerful (not to mention the major security issues involved in using it
inside the USSR) and might end up nation-specific.
Europe might have one, Japan/Korea another and so on.
Japanese computers would make running the USSR easier.
The USSR might also try to keep reaching into space, while the Japanese
and Europeans would have a major incentive to keep their programs going.
I welcome comments and