New, daily updating edition

Headlines | Alternate Histories | International Edition

Home Page


Alternate Histories

International Edition

List of Updates

Want to join?

Join Writer Development Section

Writer Development Member Section

Join Club ChangerS


Chris Comments

Book Reviews


Letters To The Editor


Links Page

Terms and Conditions



Alternate Histories

International Edition

Alison Brooks



Other Stuff


If Baseball Integrated Early


Today in Alternate History

This Day in Alternate History Blog

View My Stats








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. 

Possibility One: 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. 

Possibility Two:  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. 

Possibility Three:  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 serious threat.

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:

  • The Russians have never started a war with a first-class power - with one exception.  The First World War, which was that exception, was a total Russian defeat by any measure.
  • The Russians have good reasons to be suspicious of the Germans, even divided as they are, and fear German military power.  A united, even communist, Germany would be a massive threat on any field, no matter how well it was integrated into the soviet system. 
  • The Russians have had serious problems with the reliability of the subject peoples, with World War Two being the closest the subjects ever came to being valued Russian allies, and would distrust the east German formations in an attack upon their fellow Germans. 

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 partners. 

The Middle 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 oldest enemies. 

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 raids. 

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. 

Terrorism? Terrorism would almost certainly be less of a problem in a soviet dominated world.  The terror groups who did try to intimidate the agents of the USSR before the end of the cold war were slapped down badly by the KGB (some lessons for the US there, I fear - curse this darn PC) and there were fewer incidents.  A soviet-dominated middle east would probably spawn as many terrorists as OTL's, but the level of security around Moscow was very good at keeping out spies and other undesirables. 

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.

Conclusion : At first glance, a world dominated by the USSR instead of the US is quite similar to our own.  There is still a relatively united Europe, although one with less influence on the world stage and trouble in the Middle East.  There would, however, be some very different trends.  The USSR's client states would dominate the Middle East and there would be a far more powerful China in the Far East.  India, which was a Soviet ally in the Cold War, might move away as the dangers of an unchecked USSR become clear. 

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. 

Technological development 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 discussion.


Site Meter





comments powered by Disqus


FeedBack Form