I've been toying around with a WW3 scenario in which the Soviets effectively win as part of a larger universe for my own amusement.
Essentially, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact survive well into the 21st Century thanks to a number of alternate circumstances, including Grigory Romanov becoming General Secretary in 1985 rather than Gorbachev. Romanov's economic reforms (without the political reforms that led to the doom of the East Bloc OTL) and policies of friendly relations with the West, along with the end of rampant overspending on defense under Defense Minister Nikolai Ogarkov, mean that the USSR and the WarPac remain powerful well into the modern day.

For the bulk of the 1990s, a state of detente exists between the United States and the Soviet Union. The two superpowers cooperate in a number of areas defusing conflict in Yugoslavia, space travel, and arms control. In 1999, a crisis between India and Pakistan escalates into war, which concludes in a limited tactical nuclear exchange. The US and the SU mediate an end to the conflict, but one of the major aftereffects is that both superpowers develop SDI-style missile shields by the mid-2000s.

In the early 2000s, Soviet-American relations take a turn for the worse. After an alternate 9/11 strikes both nations, the US and the USSR launch joint antiterrorist interventions in several nations harboring Islamic fundamentalists. However, the hard task of nation-building strains the fledgling alliance. The Soviets, invariably, would attempt to set up a socialist one-party state, pointing to their previous "success" in Afghanistan. The Americans, meanwhile, always insist on a western-style democracy.

Further tensions arise as the Soviet Union forges closer relations with Iran (still ruled by a feverently anti-American Shiite theocracy; the Islamic revolution still occurred in the late 1970s, albeit under somewhat different circumstances). This new Soviet-Iranian alliance sees the Soviets support a pro-Iranian Shiite revolution in Iraq in 2005, which successfully overthrows Hussein and installs a new revolutionary government. As the 2000s drag on, the Middle East is divided into two competing blocs; a US-backed bloc dominated by the Sunni monarchies (hereafter referred to as the Gulf Coalition) and a SU-backed bloc dominated by Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Libya (hereafter referred to as the Damascus Pact). Both blocs develop nuclear weapons, either under the noses of or with the tacit support of their superpower backers.

In the 2010s, the Arab Spring occurs much as it does in OTL, plunging the region into chaos. Both the Gulf Coalition and the Damascus Pact try to co-opt the movement to undermine their opponents, while at the same time suppress protests in their own nations. Eventually, after some flashpoint (I've considered an Iranian intervention in Bahrain to support a Shiite uprising, or a forceful response to evidence of Saudi aid to Sunni terrorists in the Damascus Pact), the rival blocs march off to war. As fighting worsens, both the US and the SU send carrier groups to intimidate the warring parties to stand down. An incident between a Soviet submarine and an American destroyer sees both sunk and sparks off war between the two nations, dragging them and their allies into an increasingly worsening conflict in the Middle East.

After several months of fighting in the Middle East, the Warsaw Pact, in an ill-advised attempt at brinksmanship, blockades West Berlin, setting off a chain of events that lead to World War III breaking out in Europe. Soon after, North Korea, at Soviet urging, invades the South, forcing the United States to fight an overseas war on three fronts.
The wars in the Middle East and Europe quickly devolve into bloody quagmires, while in Korea the DPRK makes great gains against the isolated ROK and USFK, largely abandoned thanks to NATO putting more value on the European and Middle Eastern theaters and a Soviet blockade of the Korean Peninsula cutting off US and South Korean forces from supply.

Eventually, the tipping point comes. Despite American efforts to keep Israel neutral, the Jewish State bombs Syria after clashes in the Golan Heights, bringing Israel into war with the Damascus Pact and the USSR. This splits the Gulf Coalition, as many Arab nations are unwilling to fight alongside Israel. Soon after, a major terrorist attack in Tel Aviv occurs. Mossad is able to determine direct links between the terrorists and Saudi intelligence, and the IAF launches a punitive strike on Saudi targets, not expecting Saudi Arabia to respond. They misjudge, however, as the Gulf Coalition launches an attack against Israel. With it's allies fighting amongst themselves, the US seeks a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, while doing their best to stay neutral. As such, the US does not resupply Israel as it did in 1973, resulting in Israel using tactical nuclear weapons against both Damascus Pact and Gulf Coalition forces. Things escalate, and eventually a three-way strategic nuclear exchange between Israel, the Gulf Coalition, and the Damascus Pact occurs, with hundreds of nuclear detonations taking place. The Damascus Pact suffers "only minor" losses, thanks to Soviet decisions to deploy strategic ABM assets to defend those nations. Israel and the Gulf Coalition are almost completely destroyed by the nuclear exchange, with tens of millions of immediate deaths. Many more will follow due to resulting fallout and ecological damage.

An emergency ceasefire is declared in an effort to prevent a further exchange, but for a few days it seems that full-scale strategic nuclear warfare between NATO and the Warsaw Pact could break out at any second. An end-of-the world mentality takes hold; riots and mass suicides ensue. After a few days, harried diplomats work out an agreement: in exchange for a complete withdrawal of Warsaw Pact troops from Western Europe, the United States and NATO will recognize Soviet supremacy over the Korean Peninsula and what's left of the Middle East. A fragile and shaky peace falls over the world, but all know that it cannot last forever.

Not an unconditional surrender, and I'm not sure if a regional exchange qualifies as "large-scale". It's pretty bad and ASB, isn't it?
 
I think the problems with your story are Pakistan and India going to a nuclear war. WI they go to war before either side finish to develop nuclear weapons, and they both manage to develop them while at war? Pakistan, facing a larger air force, might fall in a "use them or loose them" mentality, and fires either because things got serious, because India (for whatever reasons) used a nuke in a tactical way or because they've wrongly believed to be under nuclear attack.

I don't think a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran would easily start. They are currently fighting a proxy war in Yemen yet, besides posturing, it doesn't look like either of them will directly attack the other. However, with further PODs, how about something like the First Gulf War? Suppose IITL the American ambassador is rather clear to Saddam Hussein about the American position wrt an invasion of Kuwait. Saddam doesn't invade. But twenty years later, the pro-Iranian Iraqi government might use the ATL Arab spring to intervene in Kuwait, triggering Saudi intervention, triggering Iranian intervention, triggering clusterfuck.
 
I think the 'Red Storm Rising' video game of 1988 gives a nice option for that. The Soviets victory scenario (if the player fails to accomplish his missions) suggests that after day 20 of the war the US and NATO, defeated in battle (with the Soviets having conquered everything between Fulda and the Bretagne) and threatened by an unstopable nuclear attack, surrender to the USSR.

I actually find this quite plausible. The US may risk a nuclear war, if they have a chance to win. But I think they wouldnt risk such a devasting catastrophy over a less decisive defeat.

The game ends with the Soviets occupying the USA and europe, with the Soviet flag flying over the white house. The player is imprisoned in a Gulag for ten years, to stamp out 'democratic' guerilla fighters, which the occupation force struggles with.
 
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Give the US a de facto SDI in the form of a fusion experiment gone wrong that is reproducible. Attempts to keep it quiet don't last especially because tleven the mistake represents a notable advance in fusion, even ahead of the magnetic donuts the Soviets use. As new "research" facilities take off on Hawaii, the West Coast, and the Northeast, the USSR has survived into the mid-1990s thanks to a non-Gorbechov fogure taking over. Add in Y2K as the perfect excuse for anticipated 'computer problems', a few corrupt Western agents not aware of what they are actually passing along, improved Soviet computer/technical infrastructure thanks to Politburo reorganization leading to better resource efficiency, and shake well.
 
Looks like there are a whole host of brilliant WW3 ATLs here on AH.com; however, I've noticed that pretty much all of them end with the USA and NATO emerging victorious, and all traces of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact dying in an unparalleled nuclear holocaust. As such, your challenge is to come up with a plausible, non ASB ATL in which NATO and the USA end up on the losing end, and the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union emerge 'victorious' (i.e, survive, and get NATO and the USA to unconditionally surrender), in a third world war which involves a large-scale nuclear exchange. What do you think? Is it possible, or utterly impossible? And how far back would the POD for such a TL have to be, to make such a scenario plausible?
Maybe a good POD is that Germany opts for a Mediterranean strategy in 1941 which allows the Red Army to finish rearming by 1942 where Barbarossa is wrecked. The Soviets get to the Rhine and maybe even the channel with minimal losses in the Soviet Union itself?
 
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