How to win the Cold War without abadoning communist memes: Soviet victory after 50 years and 20k words.

Well, before anything else, let’s make one thing clear: by winning, I do not mean in the same way the US did in our world, with its adversary breaking apart and being forced to adopt its economic system. That could never happen, honestly. It is written in the American constitution that all men are entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, but that is derived from one of John Locke’s most famous quotes. In the original, Locke states that all men are entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Property. That’s the founding myth of the United States. Not only that, but most Americans are happy with the system in place (the only civil war ever fought in America was to keep the system, slavery, the same). So, there would never be enough support for a state that tries to seize the means of production. A goal that would not be so detached from the realm of believability, though, would be the frame of American alliances collapsing inwards, effectively trapping American influence in the western hemisphere.

So, how could that have happened? For the USSR to remain capable of intervening in geopolitical matters around the globe, it first needs to have a stable situation at home. Gorbachev found himself with such a problematic economic system that all of his political clout and energy went into trying to reform the country, so that it would not implode. That meant the Soviet Union didn't have the surplus energy to dedicate into disseminating communism worldwide, and even its closest satellites started to drift away. The Velvet Revolution, the fall of the Antifascist Protection Rampart (name given by the GDR’s government to the Berlin Wall) and the gruesome end of Ceauşescu and his wife all happened back-to-back because it was in 1989 that everyone realized the USSR was no longer able to support the puppet regimes of the Eastern Bloc. The natural progression of that realization was people inside the Union itself starting to rebel as well, spearheaded by the Lithuanian declaration of independence in the following year.

Therefore, what we must do is iron out the economic inefficiencies of the Soviet Union, so that there are enough resources left for it to use in furthering its geopolitical agenda. This might sound simple, but I’ll actually propose a very thorough set of reforms, using the seventy years of hindsight I have in 2021 to draw a more or less safe path for the Union to follow. These reforms will be extraordinarily broad, encompassing the status of the Ruble, changes to the very principles of the Gosplan, a demographic reshuffle and a complete make over to the Soviet Union’s image abroad. The whole point of this alternate history is for the USSR to survive without having to embrace capitalism, since I really like Soviet memes.
The best point of departure, in my opinion, would be during Khrushchev's rise to power. In the aftermath of Stalin’s death, many of the problems that are harder to solve, like the petrocurrency and the prominence of the black-market, did not exist yet. Also, both the public and the politburo (the upper echelon of the USSR’s communist party) were open to reform because no one actually likes living under a totalitarian dictatorship. The first question for someone taking power at the time would be what to do with Stalin’s legacy. Stalin was a staunch Marxist, but he was also very fond of realpolitik. The Red Tsar went against various of the Bolsheviks’ core templates in order to enhance his position and strengthen his grip on the Soviet people. This was, in no small part, responsible for a culture of corruption, nepotism, demagogy and slack labor.

For example, alcoholism had been an endemic issue in the country ever since the days of the Russian Empire. The Tsars held a monopoly over the production of vodka, from which they drew a sizable income, and used it to foment a society that was in a perpetual state of stupor due to its drunkenness. Therefore, the Bolsheviks were true believers in prohibition, and one can even see workers breaking down vodka plants in several propaganda films of the time. However, when the General Secretary came to power, he reverted prohibition, slapped a red star logo on vodka bottles and called it “the people’s vodka”. This example was the one followed by the elite of Soviet society: doing only the bare minimum, and even then, only with the purpose of improving your situation. It was a common practice for managers of state-owned factories to deliberately underperform, all so they could receive greater funding the next year. Without de-Stalinizing, the Soviet Union would never be able to survive, but, like always, Khrushchev had a good idea and implemented it poorly.

The Secret Speech and other situations where the Soviet establishment openly stated their dislike for Stalin’s policies were not needed in order to undo cult of personality he had put in place. Instead, qualify his policies (i.e., crimes) as “war time” and needed, given the situation the Union found itself in. This is necessary in order to avoid a schism in the CPSU. It’s a situation comparable to Communist Party of China nowadays, in which no one public badmouths Mao, but they all agree that his ideas and actions belong in the past. It is not necessary to take down Stalin’s statues or rename Stalingrad to Volgograd, but the gulags should still be closed, and amnesty given to the General Secretary's political opponents. I’ll spoil things a bit and say that the Union will seek friendship with western Europe further down the line, so it might be good to disavow acts of violence from communist groups in the continent, such as the Brigate Rosse’s bombings.

Some things brought about by Stalin should be kept around, though. Comecon, created by him in response to America’s Marshall Plan, could perfectly be used to suppress uprisings in the Warsaw Pact nations. The whole point of that organization was to increase trade between communist nations to help them rebuild themselves, in the same way the European Coal and Steel Community helped western Europe, but it was never as successful. The main reason why Comecon failed was because it was primarily a vehicle of economic integration, instead of doing said integration itself. By that I mean that it stimulated bilateral agreements, and not multilateral ones, which resulted in a smaller pool to choose the best products from. In the end, Comecon ended up as a foot note in history when compared to its western counterpart’s grand achievement: the European Union.

This backwards bartering system really limited how much the countries of the eastern bloc could help one another. Let us say, for the sake of the argument, that the best manufacturer of steel on the eastern side of the iron curtain was a workers’ cooperative based out of Bucharest. This cooperative’s steel would not be able to freely go to factories throughout the eastern bloc, though, and instead it would rely on the Romanian government trading fifty thousand tons of steel for a couple thousand bottles of wine, for example. However, when one conducts trade on such a rudimentary basis, the limited nature of that exchange prohibits the seller from knowing the actual value of what he is selling, meaning that this great Romanian steel would go to a shoddy Bulgarian radio maker, who would add little value to it. For the products to have the most made out of them, their prices should be set clear with the use of a currency and a market, like in the West. So, what happens is: products from Hungary are bought by Poland with Rubles, which should become the standard currency in the eastern bloc to grant the Soviet central bank even more power over the satellites, and according to the turnout of said products, each country’s central planning agency would define how many Rubles it’s willing to give for them, and Hungary responds how much it’s willing to sell them for. It’s similar in practice to how a stock market works, but with goods instead of shares in companies.

This would not solve all of the Eastern Bloc’s problems, however, since central planning would still cause massive issues in the sense of resource allocation, and there would be the risk of economic collapse due to national companies not finding a place in the market. If Bulgaria’s car industry is underperforming while its furniture industry is skyrocketing abroad, manpower can be shifted from one to the other, but if everything in a country is underperforming, a crash would occur. In the case of a crash, though, the Soviet central bank would print Rubles to keep said country afloat, so I don’t think it would become that big of an issue. Furthermore, a system like this would allow for Soviet satellites to help each other in times of turmoil. If the workers of a Polish mining town went on strike, for example, then the Soviets can loan Rubles to the Polish government, so it can buy minerals from its neighbors while it deals with the strikers. That would help a lot in suppressing the minor insurgencies that crept up in the Eastern Bloc in the sixties, seventies and eighties, although the bigger ones, like the Prague Spring, would still have to be dealt with through the muzzle of a gun.

Those bigger protests would definitely still require Soviet military intervention. We can shift the production from a factory under strike in Poland to one in Czechoslovakia, but we cannot ignore thousands of people taking to the streets of Budapest or Bucharest. I wish I had some advice to give about how to deal with the people manifesting in a more humane manner, since my plan entails befriending western countries and it would be ideal to avoid angering them. However, anything short of military action in 1956 would have meant an overthrow of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. Such a thing is inadmissible because it shows that, if public pressure is big enough, the Soviet Union’s puppet governments would buckle, and without the Warsaw Pact as buffer land, the USSR’s defense strategy becomes very complicated.

Killing two birds with one stone, we have helped the recovery of the Eastern Bloc somewhat and, more importantly, we’ve given the Soviet Union more control over them through its currency, which is how the US holds a lot of bargaining power with its allies. Another of Stalin’s brainchildren was Cominform, meant to, put simply, tie a leash around the ruling parties of each Eastern Bloc nation. This would become much easier with the advent of Ruble-based trade in the Warsaw Pact nations, as disputes between the Soviet leadership and its “partners” could be settled by dooming or blessing that country’s economy. An example: if the Czechoslovak leadership decided to drift away from the USSR to seek closer ties to West Germany’s economy, the Soviets could then arbitrarily set a harsher exchange rate from the Koruna to the Ruble. That withers the trade ties between Czechoslovakia and the rest of the Eastern Bloc, which would force the country’s leaders to kowtow to Moscow in order to save the economy. This could be used to prevent Albania from detangling itself from the USSR in the turn of the decade, making the country’s economy so bad that its people rebel against their rulers. The Red Army would then seize the opportunity to invade the country, bringing down the Party of Labor of Albania, putting a puppet government in place and then strengthening the Albanian currency to improve the economy and make the Albanians fond of said puppet government.

That’s more or less the framework for the USSR’s outward policy in the fifties: a less intense de-Stalinization and proper market among the Eastern Bloc to improve and unite their economies. However, those foreign and cultural policies are not the real meat and potatoes of the changes in that decade. There is one absolute imperative for the Soviet leadership in the fifties: securing the food situation. It took decades for the Soviet Union to recover the agricultural output of the late Russian Empire, and when it did, the growth of food production was immediately outpaced by the growth of the population. When Khrushchev took power in our world, everyone knew that something had to change in the way farms worked in the country, or the Soviet Union would end up having to buy grain from the outside world, which would not only be incredibly expensive, but also humiliating.

There were two main ideas on how to solve the issue: improve the productivity of already existent farms by introducing new technology, like the West had done during the Green Revolution, or expanding into previously unexplored farmland, developing entirely new farms to supply the demand. The first had Molotov as main proponent, while the second’s primary advocate was Khrushchev. As usual, Khrushchev had the best idea and implemented it poorly. Molotov did not realize that Western agribusiness had a level of expertise in monoculture that the Soviets could only ever dream of matching. Western specialists helped turn India from a population time bomb into a net exporter of almost every crop and made the Brazilian Cerrado, a biome analogous to the African Savannah, a breadbasket for the country. When I look at communist countries during the twentieth century, they simply are not at the same level. So, developing even more farms with the use of unskilled labor really was the Soviet Union’s best option.

However, the whole endeavor, nicknamed the Virgin Lands Campaign, faced massive issues, which the Soviet establishment either did not try or failed to solve. First and foremost, manpower. Most instances of large settler movements (the colonization of North America, Danelaw, Oceania) were largely based upon a drive to own land. Farming is, by far, the kind of manual labor that makes the worker feel the most connected to the means of production. It is far easier to convince a factory worker that he is not entitled to what comes out of the machine he operates than to do the same with a farmer and the crops he cultivates. That’s why the Bolsheviks’ policy of “all your grain is mine and I’ll give back what I think you need” made them so unpopular in the countryside during the civil war. Without the ability to give land, since the state owns the means of production in socialist economies, the Virgin Lands’ ability to attract workers was heftily diminished. Out of the people who came, only a few stuck around, quickly leaving after the magic of taking part in an “endeavor for the good of your fellow Soviets and the greater communist cause” had worn off (without tangible benefits to give, Khrushchev relied mainly on propaganda to bring in workers).

Under the framework of socialism, the only way to supplement the lack of willing labor is to import unskilled people from even poorer areas. I had this idea after seeing some of the demographic trends in countries like Australia and Germany. For those who are unaware, Germany’s economic success, combined with its aging population, created a shortage in young, working and taxable people. Using the free movement policies of the EU and some of its own migration initiatives, the country started to draw in skilled, young people from the poorer, surrounding nations to revitalize the economy and feed the national treasury. This has gotten to the point in our world where, out of every 7 Germans, one of them was born abroad. The largest source of that is Turkey, with 4 million Turks living and providing cheap labor in Germany nowadays (Central Powers fist bump?). My idea is to do the same for the Soviet Union, but drawing man power from the poorer communist countries.
Bring a Pole to Kazakhstan in 1955 and pay him two thirds of what you’d give a Soviet citizen, then watch him work the land like nobody's business because that’s already way more than he was actually getting in his home country. That’s why I think it would be wise create a migration pact among the nations of the Comecon, whose leaders would have to oblige, since they’re all already in the Soviet Union’s pocket due to the power of the Ruble. In this treaty, the Soviet Union would be allowed to pick and choose what workers it wants to come in to work in the country. Obviously, bringing in people against their will wouldn’t be advisable, as it would cause way too much controversy. However, considering the general state of poverty in the Warsaw Pact (except for the USSR itself, which was up to par with the poorer western countries), getting consent from these workers probably would not be too hard. If you think it would be hard to come up with a convincing story for why countries like Bulgaria and Hungary would let the Soviet Union take away its labor force, I believe a propaganda narrative could be built. It’d be something along the lines of "those countries don’t have enough living space and it would be a favor for the USSR, a country with so much of it, to help them relieve their overpopulation issue”.

Limited labor force was just one of the Virgin Lands Campaign’s issues, though. Another major one was extremely poor decision making from Khrushchev’s part. One of the main ones, in my opinion, was his obsession with a certain region, Kazakhstan, and a few crops, especially corn. He was bullheaded and, when his ideas were proven wrong, he doubled down on them. Even after years when the Virgin Lands’ yield was below expectations, he brought in money to further expand the farms into the same kinds of land that had not been working before, when simply having proper storage facilities would increase productivity by more than a tenth. In this world, after “down years”, resources should be used to improve the conditions of already existing farmland, building proper housing for workers and expanding infrastructure, maybe even import some farming equipment and know-how from the West. An effort should also be made to bring in amenities to the Virgin Lands, with small, but significant, investments into the local service and consumer goods industries.

This is still not enough, however. As I said, poor management accounted for the bad infrastructure and working conditions, but also for bad farm planning. A lot of the Virgin Lands Campaign’s farmland was set directly upon the Eurasian Steppe, which would not have been so bad given the proper tech, but the Union could only dream of ever matching western agribusiness. It would be a bit of a pang to the Soviets’ pride, but they would have to hire western specialists to help plan out the development of new farmland. I am not an agronomist myself, but if I were to hazard a guess, these imported specialists would probably guide the USSR to develop a kind of wheat belt that stretched along the Trans-Siberian railway. It would encompass a part of northern Kazakhstan but stick to areas that were less vulnerable to droughts, which frequently hit the region during the Virgin Lands Campaign in our world, and reach further east into Siberia. Chinese farmers are moving there nowadays, so that only adds to my argument.

Well, those were my general ideas for the 1950’s, so only four decades to go.

Succeeding at solving the USSR’s food situation would grant whoever was in power a lot of clout, which would be just barely enough to solidify the more moderate de-Stalinization that I proposed. Therefore, going into the sixties, the politburo is probably less traitorous, so the reforms I already implemented and the ones I intend to implement are under less risk of just being done away with. At the dawn of that decade, there were a lot of decisions made by Khrushchev that were senseless under an objective lens, chief among them being the Space Race.

The Space Race technically began in 1957, but its main events took place in the next decade, so that’s where I’m putting it. There is one thing we must understand above all others: The USA and the USSR did not start on equal footing. The aftermath of WW2, despite what communists have tried to tell people, was America’s crowning as a superpower, not the Soviet Union’s. The Allied Powers was the largest, most cohesive and powerful alliance ever created up until that point in human history, with most of world’s economic might to back all that up. On the other hand, the USSR had half of its European side trampled over by genocidal maniacs and lost 26 million people, all to gain control over a handful of meaningless economies in eastern Europe. The US had also effectively land locked the USSR by having allies who control all geographic barriers to Soviet naval power projection, be it the Danish, Turkish or Japanese Straits. This means that the USA can waste money and time on endeavors that bring no tangible benefits, but the Soviet Union can’t because it must use that money to catch up with the Americans, who had a GDP double that of the Soviets all throughout the Cold War.

That’s why Khrushchev spending so much of his country’s research money in a field that yielded no tangible benefits is so preposterous. Socialist economies cannot rely on entrepreneurs to allocate resources and achieve innovation, so they depend on government funded research to improve. If that research is not centered on something that we know for a fact will be useful, the USSR is doomed. For the thousandth time while I write this alternate timeline, I will use 2021 hindsight: computer tech. The Soviet Union saw impressive growth in that field in the first years of the sixties, although be it still behind America. The first Soviet transistor-based computers began to roll out around that period, and the previous years had also been very productive. For example, the Strella computer, which made the calculations for Yuri Gagarin’s travel into space, was created in 1956 by Y.Y. Bazilevsky.

Most of these research initiatives took in place in institutes in and around Kiev. In this world, those scientists, their teams and machinery should all be relocated to Vladivostok for reasons I will explain further down the line, and their budgets should be increased exponentially. The money for this budgetary expansion should come from a gradual defund of the space program and, to a lesser degree, the military. If no major conflicts breakout close to its main allies, such as West Germany or Japan, the American government would never be able to garner enough support for a war against the Soviet Union, so a small defund of the military isn’t irresponsible. The Soviets could not be sure of that, but after watching the trends of the last seventy years, we can. Like I said before, the US has a primarily individualist founding myth, and not a single time in history did it have the social cohesion to declare war, as most of the war efforts that didn’t directly benefit the population were shot down by congress pretty quickly (Americans gloss over it, but Nazi Germany declared war on them, not the other way around). So, only seemingly keeping up with the US military as well as maintaining the nuclear deterrent would be more than enough to protect the USSR. On the other hand, the Space Race yielded no meaningful results besides propaganda, so diminishing its budget will not really be that significant.

Whenever projects like Mir popped up, their crews and machineries should be relocated to Vladivostok too, as the city morphs into the USSR’s tech capital. Along with the tech sector, others like services and light industry should be moved to the Russian Far East to provide amenities for the workers of the tech sector. From 1960 to 1965, the city’s population growth should balloon, reaching between five hundred thousand and a million, maybe even more. All of this has a single purpose: to be a part of the Asian Miracle. For those unaware, the latter half of the twentieth century saw America build the most expansive trade ring in human history as a way of encircling the “world island”, as described by Alexandros Petersen. This allowed multiple Asian nations to specialize massively, a tried-and-true method to become wealthier since the times of Adam Smith. Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan... There are only some of the countries that experienced a skyrocketing in their populations’ income due to higher level of trade taking place in the Pacific. Even America was in it, with the development of the well-known Silicon Valley.

However, the Soviet Union was not part of that due to its communist ideology, only dealing with capitalist economies in rudimentary items like as crude oil. That would be inadmissible in this world. Like I said, it is pretty much impossible for a government monopoly to improve its quality without government-funded research. Because of that, the best products produced by socialist countries are either valuable because of their exclusivity (like Cuban Tobacco), or the absurd amount of money spent by the state to make it good. There is not a huge market for rockets, though, which is why I think that computer science initiatives are more important. By relocating most of its R&D to the Russian Far East, some of the USSR’s most effervescent enterprises would be close to the epicenter of that trade ring. Just like Soviet rockets were the best of our world, Soviet computers would be some of the most valued in the market. The technology of the MIR-3 would be achieved by the Union in this world far earlier, and the country would be at the helm of development for personal computers.

The first steps of trade should not be too difficult and, in the first few years, the effects to the Soviet economy would be minimal. Put simply, the Soviet Union would make shows of its computers’ power and usefulness, and then seek to hash out deals with companies in East Asia. Soviet representatives would set up communication with the CEOs of companies like Mitsubishi and Nissan and sell software and hardware for their industries. The Toyota Production System (TPS) was the overall trend at the time in Asia, and it was very receptive to new technology that allowed for better coordination in the production lines. Not only that, but since the Ruble was virtually unused outside the communist bloc, the Soviet currency would be undervalued when Russian Far East (RFE for short) began exporting computers. Therefore, said computers would arrive in the market at an extremely competitive price, and thus be able to stablish a strong foothold in the international scene. Although I cannot see America going against its principles to prevent Japan from trading with the USSR, the American government would probably still place some exceedingly high tariffs on Soviet exports for security reasons, like it did with Huawei in our world.

With the money gotten for software and hardware exports, the USSR should seek to supplement its own weaknesses as an economy. Although the use of high-end computers would help a lot in central planning, it mostly fixes the inefficiency and waste that took place in Soviet factories, it does not solve everything. Quality and uniqueness are major factors in consumer satisfaction, and those Soviet products lacked. No reasonable person would ever pick the Lada over its American, European or Japanese equivalents, and rightfully so. By using computers to increase their productivity, the Soviet industries would be able to push out more stuff, shortening the queues, but people would still be unsatisfied, as those products were uninspired and sported outdated designs. That is what the Soviet should seek to fix.

With the Dollars gained from trading with Japanese and South Korean businesses, the Soviet state should begin what I will call a “demographic transition”. When looking at the average Soviet home and the average American home in the aftermath of WWII, the contrast would be stark: houses vs apartments. The main driver of that contrast was the automobile, whose industry skyrocketed during the 1950’s in the US. Thus, the iconic American suburb was born, as more American families were able to own a car and live farther away from the workplace. Soviet central planning, on the other hand, had a primary focus on public transportation, which becomes financially unfeasible when the population is spread out, which pushed the Soviet populace into tight condos. These apartments did get better overtime (Khrushchev contributed a lot to their improvement) but were still far behind American standards of quality of life. Therefore, the Soviet Union should begin a push for introducing the automobile strongly into its society.

The Gosplan would approach companies like Toyota and Hyundai to initiate talks about producing auto parts for Soviet cars. If the Japanese and Korean companies managed to produce those items at a cheaper price than the Soviets themselves managed to, then the deal would be settled. That is a major step towards making the USSR a “car-owning” society, since higher quality and cheaper auto parts would help the working class of the Soviet Union and take some weight off the shoulders of Soviet factories. Furthermore, if there is still a lot of money coming in from the sale of computer tech, then the USSR should set up a massive project, I am talking of billions of Dollars in 1960’s money, to create a new car model to be the flagship of this revolution. It might be called the “Little Volga”, as I intend it to be a more widely available version of the Volga, which was the main car used by members of the nomenklatura. Like in auto parts, the opportunity to do the project should be given to the company that offered the best balance between cost, time of production and quality (remember: the US produced seven cars for each of the USSR’s, so the Soviets have a lot of catch up to do).

It is important to highlight that this is very different from what the Soviet Union tried to do in our world regarding cars. For those unaware, the USSR did stablish partnerships with major foreign companies in our timeline (the iconic Lada was actually derived from one of Fiat’s most famous designs). However, it did so in very piss-poor manner in our world. The nomenklatura bought the license to the design, and then started manufacturing the whole car in national territory. That was stupid, since, by making the entire production take place in Soviet land, they exposed it to the inefficiencies of the Gosplan, so the cars turned out shabby and expensive. In this world, the Soviet Union is hiring foreign companies to make its designs, or dumping loads of money into research for its own, instead of importing outdated tech from the West.

With more cars coming out of factories, the priority for housing enterprises would be shifted from the iconic, prefabricated Khrushchyovka to a prefabricated family home. Ever since the Russian Civil War, the country had experienced a massive housing deficit, which Khrushchev helped solve with his idea of prefabricated homes, his policy would receive a massive boost to its output and effectiveness by shifting focus to suburbs. Individual houses are far, far easier to build and maintain then apartment complexes. The infrastructure part of the equation, like sewage and electricity, becomes so much simpler when the pipes of twenty different homes are not going through the same wall. Also, structurally, apartments are far harder to fix, since you never really know where the leak is coming from, the building’s pipeline or the individual apartment. Not only that, but building things is much harder in the cramped up and restrictive environments of cities than in suburbs, even more so with prefabricated projects. Soviet housing would be way better overall in this timeline.

Before I get to external policy, which I think needs some major changes in the 1960’s, there is a last internal question I want to tackle, and the solution I’ll present will be fairly problematic. There is an adage about demographics that’s proven itself right repeatedly in history: when a minority, be it religious or ethnic, outpaces its majority in growth, unrest occurs. That is because the growth in their numbers makes them feel more confident that the status quo is fragile, but it is not fragile enough to just crumble outright, so they keep trying to push towards ruin. We saw that kind of thing in Northern Ireland during the troubles, as the Catholics were growing faster than the dominant, protestant majority; in the Russian Caucasus, as the Muslims became increasingly numerous and the Russian state had to use military strength to subdue the region; and America during the Antebellum period, as the north’s white population would soon overwhelm the south’s, thus granting the north the voting power to outlaw slavery on its own. From 1991 to 2021, the population of Central Asia almost doubled, so, if it was still a part of the Soviet Union, we can expect massive instability in the region.

Kazakh oil, Uzbek cotton, Turkmen gas... These are only some of the resources that come out of Central Asia and are highly sought after worldwide. The region has major strategic value as well, since it provides the Soviet Union with the means to protrude into the politics of Asia like nobody’s business. In the past, Uzbekistan was the road for Soviet troops going into Afghanistan, and the region was the epicenter of global trade when it was mostly land-based. Once Asian nations like India and Thailand hit their economic growth spurts, it would regain a lot of that importance, and the Soviet Union would stand to profit a lot if it managed to keep control of the area. The most sure-fire way to freeze population growth is by lowering the number of children people have, and the best way to get to that is changing the outlook of women. As soon as women have options, they opt not to have kids. Therefore, that is what the Soviet Union should try to do.

It is relatively easy to do that, since the USSR had a bizarre obsession with “ethnic autonomy”, placing quotas for entry in pretty much every institution to make sure that every field had the proper share of each background. All we must do is add another quota, one that forces entities like colleges to have 5% to 7% of its members be women of Turkic origin. That way, women from Central Asia have things to aspire to other than motherhood, and will be less likely to become mothers or delay that experience, which brings down the population growth of the region.

Also, there should be a drive to push those women towards job posts in urban centers like Bishkek and Nur-Sultan, as women in urban environments have universally lower birth rates than women in rural ones. If you think Central Asian culture is too patriarchic and would resist such changes, then think about Asian societies like South Korea and Japan. To this very day, women are still expected to perform most of the house making and take care of children, which only further weakens birth rates, as they must choose between the home and the work. If properly done, this could curb the population growth of countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. I brought this up in the sixties, when it was not even a problem, instead of the following decades because birth rates do take a long time to meaningfully drop. All of it might sound really harsh, but I cannot see a state based out of Moscow keeping control of the region in the new millennium otherwise. Being overwhelmed with migrants who all speak Russian as a first or second language and having its population growth stunted would turn Kazakhstan into a part of the RSFSR in all but name, by the way.

Now, to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Before anything else, I must make one thing clear: the alliance between Cuba and the Soviet Union was a paper tiger, but no one at the time realized. Castro’s revolution was one of the most unlikely things to happen in world history, but the sheer randomness of the fact does not equate importance, that is a quality people chose to give it. First and foremost, the island is almost hand-crafted to be an exporter of luxury items, and although those are rather good (I myself am fond of Cuban rum), they are irrelevant to the geopolitical struggle. Beyond that, the island really did not hold that much strategic value. The Caribbean has been called the US’ Mare Nostrum, which is a very fair assessment considering the strong grip its military has on the region. In a conventional war, the Red armed forces’ land-based nature would deter it from safely using Cuba, since America would be able to seize the island whenever it wanted with its superior navy. Truly, the only value brought by protecting Castro’s regime was a missile base close to the East Coast. So, it must find a way to detangle itself from the Cuban question while not seeming like its backing down.

With that in mind, the USSR should not send nuclear weaponry to Castro while it is in talks with the Americans. A good outcome for the situation would be the Americans lifting the embargo in exchange for a Soviet promise to not stablish any military ties with Cuba. It might also be possible to convince the Americans to remove their nukes from Turkey under the table, but that’s already wishful thinking from my part, since removing the embargo without removing Castro would exhaust their goodwill.

In the end, what happens to Cuba is not really that important if the Soviet Union managed to save face. It must not seem like the Soviets backed down and let a fellow communist state fend for itself, as that might deter other communist movements around the globe. Cuba is like a minefield to the USSR, as treading properly will not get it a lot in a strategic sense but stepping on the wrong spot would result in mutually assured destruction. In our world, few people knew about the US taking its nukes out of Turkey, so it seemed like the USSR was weak when it removed its missiles from Cuba. By getting America to lift the embargo on the island, it would already have more clout than in our timeline, but Cuba would effectively end up as American economic dependency. Therefore, I will just consider the island a pro-Soviet state that cannot act upon its feelings due its reliance on trade with the US, like Iran and Argentina as they related to the Nazis in WWII.

As for other major geopolitical events of the sixties, most of them went relatively well for the Soviet Union, and I am afraid of things going wrong if it got greedy and tried to push for more communist countries worldwide. For example, if the USSR increased its support for the communist insurgency in Malaysia, world tension might escalate to the point of the US declaring war on North Vietnam. However, there are somethings that the Soviet Union would have to change. The most meaningful of these was the Sino-Soviet Split.

Mao’s decision to forge an individual path for China, outside the guise of the Soviet Union, has been often attributed to de-Stalinization, which allegedly convinced Mao that Soviet leadership had strayed too far away from proper socialism. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that, considering this timeline’s less intense process of de-Stalinization, the split might be prevented altogether. The problem with that line of thinking, though, is assuming that the posthumous defaming of the Man of Steel was the only reason why Mao decided to cut ties with the Soviets. Mao was, at times, more nationalist than the actual nationalists he fought against for control of China, and thus believed that China would inevitably regain his position as the world’s most important country. The PRC conducted its first nuclear test just two years after the Sino-Soviet Split, so it is safe to assume that Chinese leadership was planning on turning the country into a nuclear power far before that point.

When China decided to detangle itself from the Soviet Union, though, I do not believe it would be such an outward and garish event as it was in our world. The two would simply stop cooperating, instead of publicly defaming one another. Their nukes would most definitely not be pointed at each other, and they would not cause a split in the communist world either. Without the Chinese publicly recognizing the Soviets as rivals for kingship over the communist world, I believe that Moscow would be able to keep at least some friends in the Forbidden City. If powerful officials in the CCP retained pro Soviet opinions, Mao’s eventual death might not lead Chinese society to Dengist reforms like it did in our world, but I am already getting ahead of topic.

There is one more piece of foreign policy I want to talk about, which is meant to ease the geographic restrictions of trade in Asia. What I envision as the crowning achievement of Soviet foreign policy in this decade would be an early version of the Belt and Road Initiative. The first step to that would be the Korean Expansion, an infrastructure project meant to branch out the Trans-Siberian Railway. By the way, I named it “Korean” because it’s supposed to go through the entire peninsula. Beginning from its previous end point in Vladivostok, this world’s Trans-Siberian Railway would extend towards the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, then to Seoul and end in Busan, South Korea’s largest port. From Busan, Soviet hardware and software would be taken to Japan, closing the trade ring.

It might sound like an extraordinarily ambitious plan, but it might be achievable if the Soviet Union is willing to swallow its pride and be reasonable, which it will have to if it wants to have any chance in war with the US (I’ll elaborate on that further down the line). Initial moves should be made to bring the Workers’ Party of Korea into the Cominform by befriending high ranking party officials. People like Kim Kyong-hui, younger sister of Kim Jong-Il, who held great influence over the internal matters of North Korea, should be invited for dinners and tours in Moscow and Leningrad to “talk about their country’s future”. Not only should the country’s elite be courted, but the crazy dictator himself, Kim Il-Sung should also be a target for conversion. Without the Sino-Soviet Split, helping the USSR wouldn’t seem like “picking mom over dad”, so Kim can be relatively secure that Mao won’t invade him in case of an encroachment with the Soviet Union. The USSR could thus to try persuade him into allowing the Trans-Siberian Railway to expand into his lands in exchange from greater aid from the side of the Soviets.

That’s the beginning of this world’s Belt and Road Initiative, whose purpose it is to divert world trade from the sea-based format, that heavily favors America, to a more land based one, which would heavily benefit the USSR, as the planet’s foremost land power. For now, though, that’s it for the sixties. Next up is the decade I believe will have the most changes done to it, brought about by the 1973 oil crisis. Under no circumstance can that oil money be used to feed the overpaid bureaucracy of the Soviet Union or expand the military budget. The Soviets need to think like capitalists here, and search for opportunities to invest that money profitably.

In the dawn of 1970, the world would be way less tense than it was in our timeline. China and the USSR are rivals, but they’re not decrying each other as bourgeois in sheep’s clothing. Also, the two Koreas would be much deeper into peace talks, as the Soviets try convincing the North Koreans to demilitarize their border at least a bit. This is very beneficial to the Soviet Union. While the US spills blood and money in Vietnam, the USSR would manage to seem like a benign world actor, one that only uses its powerful military as a deterrent against invaders. That would be compounded by the Union’s seeming will to trade with the West while it waits for the proletariat of countries like France and Britain to overthrow their oppressors, instead of preparing to do said overthrowing itself. That would all be turned upside down in 1973, after the OPEC decided to teach the western world a lesson like it did in our timeline.

After Arab armies pathetically failed at conquering Israel repeatedly, there was some serious resentment broiling in the Middle East against America, Israel’s fiercest ally. OPEC is a cartel formed by the world’s largest oil exporters, with the exception of the USSR itself. Most of its members are Arab countries who, like I said, were not happy about American foreign policy in their vicinity. The OPEC countries usually made deals to pump just enough oil to keep the price high, but without breaking the back of western economies. In 1973, though, that rule was thrown out through window. Almost all pumps were closed, and the West became starved for oil. Every single country allied to America suffered at some level with that, as the harsher economic climate made American capital dry up, which deprived economies like Brazil of much needed investment. Europe suffered just as much as, if not more than, the US with that, since it was the main importer of Middle Eastern oil, while Americans relied more on Mexican and Canadian oil.

Warren Buffet once said: “when people are scared, it is time to be greedy”. Well, the West was terrified in the early seventies, and Soviet leadership was too stupid to properly take advantage of it. Most people in the CSPU failed to understand the western mindset, thus thinking that if they showed enough military strength, western Europe would buckle under the pressure. In truth, by taking up Brezhnev’s militarism during a time when the whole capitalist world was unstable, all the Soviet Union did was alienate possible allies like France and Italy, whose communist movements declined during the decade. This moment, when Europe is starving for oil and the US is facing massive political unrest, with unstable leadership and the tail end of the Vietnamese blunder, is the best for the Soviets to attempt reform, since it’s when there is the least outward pressure against the system. Also, there would be the oil money to cushion the blow.

As before, I will address the internal changes first, and then proceed to the external ones. First and foremost, a change to central planning is needed. Let me tell you something about state enterprise: politicians decide they want a certain output, let’s say a thousand cars manufactured. If the state-owned factories only manage to produce five hundred by the end of the year, what will the state do? Increase the budget until the quota it wants is met (or increase the work hours, if your communist ruler is Stalin). And if a factory managed to meet the quota while running a budgetary surplus? Its budget for the next year is decreased. Do you see how this isn’t very smart? It’s the very opposite of specializing, as you double down on what you do poorly and forsake what you do well. This was made worse by the general zeitgeist of populism and corruption of the Soviet Union, which pushed politicians to lower prices to a surreal level, and then have to subsidize everything in order to keep those prices low.

If the USSR wants to succeed as an economy, the state needs to take a reactive stance to the actions of its consumer market. The most important thing they have to do is abolishing subsidies, which are a smart idea most often used in a dumb way. The thing about subsidies is that they, by definition, reward bad financial activities. They are used in situations where an economic activity isn’t viable right now, but will soon be. For example, let’s say a radio maker can manufacture its products at a price of 100 rubles, but not enough people consider it valuable enough to buy the good at that price, meaning that’s an untenable investment and has to be ended. However, a railway line will soon be built, thus cheapening the radio’s price and make it viable, which is where a subsidy comes in, making that radio viable for manufacture in the short run. That was not the principle used by the Union in its distribution of subsidies. In the USSR, the nomenklatura made arbitrary decisions about what prices products should have, basically depriving good enterprises of capital in order to allow bad state companies to sell their goods at a reasonable price. Like I said, it’s the opposite of specializing.

In this world, eradicating subsidies is the first order of business, and must be done right as the first five-year plan of the seventies starts. There would be massive unrest, yes, but the politburo must find a way to wither the storm, because the lack of this economic reform would doom the USSR in the future. In the aftermath of the abolition of subsidies, prices would fluctuate massively and unrest would follow, as the population picks the products that are considered properly valuable. Some items, made in well-run factories, would maintain a reasonable price without the subsidies, and vanish from shelves quickly, which would warrant state-owned stores to raise their price. Other products, made by poorly managed enterprises, would have to go down in price so much in order to be bought, that they’d end up as unprofitable messes. That’s where the opportunity to improve would show itself.

Once the true prices of things showed themselves, it would be easy to identify what enterprises were in need of change, and then perform said change. Thus, the Soviet leadership could weed out the unprofitable companies, making the worse products, in order to leave room for more profitable ones. In America, the standard profitability of companies is about 6% to 8%. Considering that the USSR didn’t have access to entrepreneurship, which hampers its ability to discover profitable fields, our expectations should be lowered to about 5%, which is the reasoning behind a policy that I will nickname the “5% standard”. Put simply, public services, like the military and healthcare, which don’t charge their costumers for money, are the only ones exempt from having to be profitable. Others, such as food production and home appliances, have to find a way to become profitable. This reform shouldn’t take place at break neck speed, though.

In order for the whole process to be successful, primary activities, such as resource extraction, must be the ones exposed to them first. In our world, the nomenklatura tried a similar thing in 1965, and failed due to the fact that some sectors of central planning picked up before others, but their development was curtailed because their suppliers couldn’t catch up with them. Mining, logging, and others of the sort should be at the helm of the push for profitability, so that the industries that rely on them can be better. Obviously, the “5% standard” shouldn’t be at full force in the beginning, and the mark should be around 1% to 2% for the first few months. Companies that can’t achieve it after two to four consecutive fiscal quarters, should be considered “liabilities”, and have its management positions gradually shuffled until the goal is reached. After the first five-year plan of the reform, the “5%” would be expanded. If a state-run company cannot achieve that standard, even after five years of changing managers, then its assets are sold to foreigners, its function outsourced to the USSR’s capitalist trade partners (mostly East Asia at this point) and its workers relocated to more profitable endeavors.

That’s all I believe the Soviet system would be able to handle in the matter of internal reforms, so now we’ll get to the new external policy ideas. It’s very important that the entire push for profitability is independent from the oil money coming in, because I already have a destination for it. There was a major obstacle to Soviet power projection in the world, which is the fact that the US had created a trade order heavily reliant on sea travel. The USSR, like I commented in the section about Cuba, always was a primarily land-based power. This means that a global trade order reliant on the Malaka and Gibraltar Straits really hurt the Union, as both were American allies. In order to change that, the Soviet nomenklatura would have to put in the effort to make land-based trade paramount again. That idea is derived from what China is doing nowadays, building an extensive system of highways, railroads and airports in Eurasia to connect it to other economies.

The Soviet Union would have had a little taste of that through the Busan-Vladivostok railroad that I mentioned earlier, but the project I want to do is on a way more massive scale. Before I get to it, though, I must highlight that those projects will be taking place at mid-decade, instead of right in the beginning, as they rely heavily on the actions of other nations, which I can’t change the date of. For example: I want to connect the countries that formed French Indo-China to Central Asia through India, but that’s not possible until America pulls out of Vietnam. So, here’s a rough outline of the timeline:

The first window that would be opened for expansion would be the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Considering that the Indo-Pakistani War would still have happened, since it wouldn’t have been affected by the changes I made, then the Indians would still feel compelled to ally themselves with Soviet Union, as Pakistan was an American ally. Therefore, in the years following 1971, there would a be a lot of good will between the Soviets and the Indians, which opens a window for a greater geopolitical project. In our world, like always, the Soviet Union was obsessed with autarky and had little interest in trade with a half-way capitalist nation like India was at the time. That’s a shame, since the Indians had a lot of the goods that the USSR really struggled to make and ended up without or with shoddy versions of, like cotton. In this world, the expansion of the military should be put on hold in order to make room for an infrastructure project to connect India to the USSR, carrying the standard things I’ve mentioned up until now, such as computer hardware, raw materials and the goods that proved themselves profitable in the Soviet market. This trade route would go through Tibet, which leads me to my next point: Mao’s death.

If the PRC had never publicly decried the USSR, then it would have been easier for the Soviets to maintain good relations with some among the Chinese bureaucracy. I can’t exactly predict who, but I’m entirely sure that if Mao hadn’t made his distaste for the Soviets so clear before he died, many would try to rise to power by seeking support from the Soviet Union. I can barely express the importance of Vladivostok in this world, and the RFE by extension, as the tech hub of the Soviet Union and its main trade hub. That is, a trade hub that connects to economies that aren’t dirt-poor, communist ones. If that’s not important enough, the allocation of tech, manufacturing and transportation jobs would make the RFE home to millions more Soviet citizens. It is thus imperative, to the Soviet Union of this world even more than ours, to make sure that they have some kind of leash around the PRC’s neck, so they’d be more than willing to back a pro-Soviet bureaucrat into power in China.

All of this has a major repercussion: China doesn’t open itself to western capital under Xiaoping. I mean, it would probably try to copy Lenin’s NEP by allowing foreign money to be invested in some sectors of the economy, simply because Mao had made the country so desperately poor. However, it would do so in much more halfhearted manner, and thus yield worse results. It is similar to the case of Vietnam, who opened itself up in the nineties and is thus light-years behind China in development in our world, and that also goes for India. China would see growth post-Mao, yes, but it wouldn’t be remotely enough to industrialize the country to the extent that was done in our world. Chinese GDP per capita and HDI would be on par with India in this world, and because of the huge share of humanity that lives in that country, this means that mankind as a whole is worse off in this timeline than ours. On a side note, having what basically amounts to a puppet in the position of Chairman in China would allow the USSR to further expand the Eurasian rail network. It’d bolster the railway that goes through Tibet and branch out the line that goes through Harbin to connect it to Lüshunkou (Russo-Japanese War™).

Now, the most delicate part of the seventies in the USSR’s relationship with the West. The main goal for the Soviets is not to weaken NATO by seeming like a great threat, but to do so by diminishing trust in its members’ willingness to back each other. That isn’t out of the blue, unlike some might think. Under an objective lens, NATO was in fact weakening before the seventies. No longer with colonial empires to protect, there was little reason for Britain or France to care for worldwide efforts against communism. Not only that, but the very thing that drove Europeans to seek American protection was fear of communism, which is why one of the moments when European dislike for America was greatest was during détente. If the Soviet Union could show to western Europe that it had no intention of being the conduit for communism, only seeking control of its immediate neighbors for survival reasons, then it would be much harder for European leaders to convince their peoples to beware the Reds.

Like I said, though, in order to cause a breakdown of US-Europe relations, the Soviet Union would first have to make the Europeans feel secure. A good way to do so would be to diminish the Soviet military presence in East Germany, which was the main point of contention between the capitalist and communist blocs, since Austria and Yugoslavia were technically neutral in the Cold War. To put it into context, the city of Zossen had 40,000 Soviet soldiers stationed in it, just a little under the number of active personnel in the Bundeswehr today. East Germany as a whole had a about 500,000 Soviet troops ready for combat, and if we want the French, Italians, Danes, etc. to forsake American protection, that number has to drop sharply. Those troops were mostly meant for defense from outside threats, as control of the German population was left up to the native Stasi, so I don’t think there would be too much repercussion outside of a war scenario, which is unlikely to happen if the Soviets don’t declare it.

Furthermore, the Soviet Union should begin the same process in Europe that it did in East Asia. Setting up commercial pacts with European companies to supplement its central planning’s flaws while selling raw materials and computers systems is the goal it should aim for at this point, with the main target being West Germany. There might be some reluctance from the Germans at first, so it'd probably be good to crack down on the East German government a bit and force it to ease restrictions, letting go some political prisoners, reducing the Stasi’s numbers... These are all measures that would make Europeans less guilty about trading with the Soviets. Stablishing contact with German companies would also give Soviet institutions more bargaining power against their Japanese and South Korean partners. Beyond that, however, some more strategic matters should also be discussed with European governments, chief among them being a possible future German reunification.

East Germany was similar to Cuba in the sense that it was useful as a propaganda tool and war spoil, but little else. It had a third of its western counterpart’s population, but a tenth of the economy. On the other hand, its status as buffer land is at best questionable, since the locals saw the Soviets as hideous occupiers and the armed forces would definitely rebel at the sight of invaders from the West and join them. Therefore, exchanging a rebellious, small and puny German puppet for a grateful, powerful and neutral unified Germany would be nothing short of beneficial to the Union, although it would be best to take baby steps at first. The Soviets should strong arm the GDR into allowing for more border crossings, exchange students and just more cultural interaction overall. Meanwhile, there should be arrangements made to gradually blur the lines between the West and East’ governments. For example, sharing police records and information about ongoing investigations (very useful in a time of increased border activity) and an integrated energy grid, whose sources, such as uranium and gas, should obviously come mostly from the USSR. By the end of the seventies, the Soviet Union should propose unification under this set of circumstances:

1) Half of the average German’s income should end up in the government’s pocket through taxes, so to not seem like the Soviet Union just abandoned East Germany’s working class.

2) Germany should remain a completely neutral nation with an effectively non-existing military, obviously leaving NATO in the process.

3) The Germans would have to forsake any trade associations that favor the west more than the east.

4) A new clause should be written on the German constitution, one that safeguards the existence of certain leftist parties.

These are very thorough reforms, but I believe the Germans’ desire to reunite would be great enough to make them cater to the demands. Each one of the conditions has an overt or subtle intention to benefit the Soviet Union in some way. Number one is pretty obvious, and the Soviet Union would try to frame it as “we’re so benevolent that we’ll let you people reunite, but we’re too benevolent to let your working class at the mercy of the German bourgeoisie”. The second is actually way more complicated than it seems, so I’ll talk about it later. The third is pretty straight forward. In order to not be exploited by its Asian trade partners, the USSR needs other options. Companies like Volkswagen and DHL, which is a subsidiary of the Deutsche Post, would pay good amounts for Soviet software and hardware, just like governments paid high sums for Soviet rockets in our world. However, it would be on a larger scale, because people need computers more than rockets. Germany has to leave the EU in order for this trade relationship to develop, since Soviet products wouldn’t be competitive otherwise. Finally, the fourth one is more about realpolitik than ideology, despite what it may look like. By funneling money into united Germany’s communist party, the Soviets would have control over at least some seats of the Bundestag, which means that they can influence German politics by forming coalitions and being an overall nuisance to more right-leaning and pro-America parties.

The second one is very complex due to the huge number of American bases in Germany. Requiring the Germans to relinquish their military ties with the West would force the Americans to completely rethink their defense strategy in Europe. To avoid that scenario, the White House would begin aggressive lobbying in Berlin, trying as hard as it can to prevent reunification. However, there’s a reason why I want the integration between East and West Germany to begin in the early seventies and coalesce in the late seventies, which is the Watergate Scandal. After Nixon’s multiple errors, the Vietnamese blunder and Gerald Ford pardoning him, the American political system was remarkably shaky. Jimmy Carter lacked the charisma that other presidents, like Roosevelt and Reagan, had and was required to assert American geopolitical dominance. I doubt he’d be able to convince the West German government to prevent reunification, which would lead to the USSR’s vision being fulfilled.

Thereafter, the American position in Europe would become dire. With Germany as a neutral entity right in the middle of Europe, the only borders between the Warsaw Pact and NATO would become Greece-Turkey and Norway-Soviet Union. A polar front, as would be the case of a conflict on the Norwegian border, is impractical by definition. Meanwhile, a conflict in Greece wouldn’t lead anywhere because of the region’s disconnection from the rest of Europe (it’s kind of hard to march towards Paris from Athens). Therefore, although they wouldn’t be thinking about leaving NATO just yet, more independent countries like France would begin to wonder if it was worth it to follow America into strategic nightmares like Vietnam. Losing East Germany was way less of a blow to the Soviets than losing West Germany was for America, and everyone knew it, so the US would be entering the seventies with an even worse taste in its mouth. Not only that, but much of the stain left on the Republican Party’s image by Nixon and Ford’ little scheme would be washed away by Carter’s failure at preventing the advancement of Soviet interests, so I’d expect Reagan’s rhetoric to pack an even stronger punch in the 1980’s.

There are two major issues I still have to address regarding foreign policy in the 1970’s, though: the Iranian Revolution and the Afghanistan War. The overthrow of the pro-western Shah in exchange for a fundamentalist, Islamic theocracy is hardly what the Soviets could call an “strategic success”. There is no chance that the Ayatollah would ever go Red, even more so considering that the whole point of the revolution was to rid Iran of outside influence. However, the two shared many political interests. For starters, both of them hate the Americans, and working together to undermine the leader of the western world should not be a scrapped idea. Secondly, the two also share economic interests in the sense that they’re both oil exporters, and thus want to keep the price of it as high as possible.

In our world, the Soviet leadership misinterpreted the developments in Iran as similar to the ones in Afghanistan, a squabble among tribesmen that could yield no sensible result. Yet, that wasn’t the case at all. The Soviets forgot to take into consideration the thousands of years of Persia as a coherent and united entity, as well as Khomeini’s ability to pull together multiple sectors of society. Iran ended up as a powerful adversary against America’s influence in its general vicinity, but outside of the Soviet sphere of influence. In this world, that should not be allowed to happen. Once he came to power, the Ayatollah should immediately be given a seat at the grown up’s table. To the USSR, Iran would be what Saudi Arabia was to the US, an ally who is diametrically opposed in ideology, but remains an ally due to practicality. Together, the Ayatollah and the premier could work to create an opposing force to OPEC in the scene of international oil trade, working to undermine the West’s interests. Communist nations with large oil depositories, like Angola and Romania, would be invited to that club, and their prices would be set differently for different costumers. For example, as a pro-Soviet state, India could get a lower oil price than Italy.

For as a good as creating an opposing force to OPEC is, the greatest benefit of having Iran as an ally would be strategic, not economic. If you’re unaware, the Middle East today is embroiled in its very own Cold War. It’s fought between Turkey and Iran, who are the greatest Sunni and Shia powers, respectively. Turkey was, by far, the worst thorn on the Soviet Union’s side. As long as an American ally controlled the Turkish Straits, the Red Navy would always have its power projection curtailed. It severely limited how much the Soviets could help its allies overseas in a major war and was the main lock on the door to the Mediterranean, which would open the Union to markets further west and allow it to influence the Muslim world further.

On the topic of Afghanistan: maybe, just maybe, there’s some level of intervention that can be done. I’m absolutely not talking about a full-blown invasion, though. That would just be some next level stupidity. What I’m talking about is the setup for a humanitarian mission when the civil war broke out between the communist government and the mujahedeen. Obviously, an attempt should be made to salvage the communist government of Afghanistan by arming the regime, but it would be considered a bonus and out of the USSR’s way. The main focus is to secure control over the Wakhan Corridor. It’s a small strip of land, and the Red Army outnumbered the local population by orders of magnitude, so securing complete control over it wouldn’t hard at all. Moreover, the Soviets would be able to clothe and feed the people of the region much better than any of the groups involved in the fighting.

Eventually, Soviet humanitarian efforts would have to be acknowledged by the international community, even the United States. Due to the chaotic state of Afghanistan, the Wakhan Corridor, spared of the horror purely because of the USSR’s efforts, would be considered a special zone under direct control of international actors, mainly the Red Army, but also institutions like the Red Cross. This is similar to what happened to Kosovo, when the United Nations intruded and pried control of the area away from Serbia’s hands. In the end, the Soviet Union might just hold a referendum in the region about whether it wants annexation or not, which might go in favor of the Soviets since they can offer much better standards of living than the Taliban or the Afghan government. With control of the Wakhan Corridor (winning the Great Game a hundred years late is still winning), the Soviet Union would be able to much better assist the Indians, their allies, in asserting their claim to Kashmir. If India becomes bolder about its ambitions, a war with Pakistan might begin, but that would happen only much further into the future.

On a side note, before I leave the seventies, the Cambodian-Vietnamese War would go down much quicker in this world. With the Chinese becoming gradually more of a puppet, the Red Khmer would have to rely mainly on Thai help in order to survive, which wouldn’t be nearly enough. Maybe the Vietnamese are even emboldened to perform a preemptive strike against Pol Pot’s regime. Either way, the Cambodian-Vietnamese War would end earlier and Cambodia be brought into the Soviet sphere of influence. Also, fewer members of the Khmer Rouge would escape the country with their heads standing atop their shoulders. Also, it might be good to talk about some of the policies that the Soviets would force Chinese leadership to adhere to.

The CCP would be forced to make the autonomous provinces, well, autonomous. This means granting ever more self-government rights to minorities like the Uyghurs and the Tibetans, who are essential to keeping the route to the Indo-Gangetic Plain open. As soon as those regions received actual autonomy, they would bar Chinese immigration in order to preserve themselves from being further assimilated into China proper. In exchange for catering to those demands, the Soviets could give the Chinese leadership some clout by letting it annex Outer Mongolia, fusing it with Inner Mongolia. Honestly, the Soviets would demand so much autonomy be given to the Mongolians, that the only thing truly changing would be lines on a map. It might actually be a Trojan Horse, since the Mongolians would most certainly side with the Soviets if war ever broke out between them and the Chinese.

Now, finally, we arrive at the eighties, which is problematic because that decade has one defining characteristic above all others: Ronald Reagan. His charisma was absurd, able to sweep usually blue states off their feet, leaving the democrats behind and pretty much having full control of America during his time in office. He had so much influence, in fact, that he was able to get the country on board for some of the most ambitious (some would say outrageous) economic plans ever. Reaganomics is comprised of two key principles, which are lowering taxes on the super-rich, with the purpose of giving the economy an injection of capital, and raising government spending by using the power of the dollar as a worldwide currency to endlessly incur debt.

It is now that some of the seeds I’ve been planting up until now come to fruition. The only European country to embrace Reagan’s neo-con ideology was the UK, while others, like France and Italy, were far more wary of those ideals. In this world, the USSR might be a communist nation, but it also has a long-standing trade relationship with Japan and South Korea, never sent troops to foreign countries after WWII, peacefully mended the US-Cuba relationship and not only did it unify Germany, but also developed a warm and healthy relationship with a country against whom it fought two world wars. It also conducted a humanitarian operation that helped save tens of thousands of Afghans from the horrors of war. Fear of communism would become increasingly harder for the Americans to justify to their European allies, thus making NATO weaker than it ever was.

More than anything, however, it’s imperative to make sure that the USSR doesn’t follow the US into a pointless fiesta of military expansion. Soviet society would be richer in this world by every conceivable margin, but it would definitely not be ready to keep up with the US’ spending ability, especially during the prosperity granted by Reaganomics in the short term. I predict that the GDP per capita of the USSR in 1989 might be on par with the poorer western nations, like Spain or Greece, which is already a big increase from out timeline, but America would still be about 33% richer per person. That’s why the Soviets should begin an aggressive campaign to mock the Star Wars program, instead of keeping up with it, which would be indescribably cheaper.

Today, we know that the “Star Wars” program was a hoax set up by the American government to scare the Soviets into spending more money than they could. For the thousandth time, I’ll be using the power of hindsight to help out the USSR. Instead of falling into the trap and spending way more than they should on military research, the Soviets in this world simply stick to their nuclear deterrent, while their state-run media satirizes the American endeavor to militarize space (in my humble opinion, “capitalists are greedy to the point of trying to own stars” would be an awesome slogan). This moment, when the Soviets seem like a sober and reasonable choice in relation to the gun-obsessed Americans, is the best to weaken NATO. The Soviet Union should approach France with a proposal for a trade deal, wherein the Soviet state promises a certain amount of petroleum products for a fixed price. The reason why France would be the best choice is because of its very independent nature (France keeps control of its ex-colonies to this day through the CFA Franc) and has the status of the only nation in Europe, besides Germany and the Soviet Union itself, with the ability to measure up to the British.

Yet, the mother of all PR stunts would be pulled in the mid 1980’s: Chernobyl. I know that the whole point of this alternate timeline is what if someone was running the USSR with 2021 hindsight, but taking steps to avoid Chernobyl directly is way too ASB. What I will change, though, is the way the Soviet Union deals with it. Instead of borderline ignoring the issue for hours, which is unacceptable in case of a nuclear disaster, the matter is treated with as much attention as would be given to a military invasion. The concrete coffin is laid immediately, as well as other measures that would help save lives in both the short and long term. Most important, however, is the fact that the Soviet press takes the offensive. In our world, it first pretended like the accident never happened, to then say it was fully contained when illegal signals caught from the West allowed Soviet citizens to have a grasp of what was actually happening. In this world, the politburo starts damage control as soon as the accident happens. They call upon the Ukrainian populace to be solidary and to help the state control societal unrest, basically handling it an utmost threat to the wellbeing of the Soviet nation, which Chernobyl kind of is. Furthermore, the Soviets would also tell Western Europe about it, instead of letting the Europeans discover the fact themselves, which destroyed trust in the USSR in our world. The whole affair ends up being regarded as the moment when the whole of Europe came together to mourn the victims of a tragedy and help out in dealing with the issue.

Meanwhile, internally, the USSR would be trying to stamp out some of the inefficiencies of its state. For example, Soviet deputies, who were representatives for whom the workers voted on to make indirect political decisions, should have stricter term limits. This is meant to control the spread of corruption, since the longer a politician stays in power, the easier it is for him to set a corruption network, especially when the state is conducting so many deals with foreign companies. The low-level corruption would already be relatively clean due to so many bad factory managers being ousted by the 5% standard, but this would help prevent more corruption from being built. The biggest reform isn't a reform, though, but a reactionary response to calls for the individual republics to have their presidents.

Allowing the individual presidents to be a thing was a very dumb move, since it gave rise to a cabal of politicians who had a vested interest in weakening the central government in Moscow and had a high degree of influence, if only as public speakers. The fact of the matter was that men like Leonid Kravchuk and Boris Yeltsin, despite having very little power according to Soviet law, had the backing of an election to mouth off as the representatives of their republics. They also gave the people in those republics a greater sense of individuality. Without electing a leader to represent them, it would be far, far harder for the half of the USSR that wasn’t Russian to gain independence. Think about it like this: it’s much easier to create an independent Belarusian or Ukrainian state if all the bureaucracy and paperwork has been done and there’s an appointed leader already, all he lacks is some actual power. By not letting those national leaders rise, there’s a far lesser chance of any nationalist movements actually succeeding.

It might seem like the ideas I’ve laid down up until now would have weakened the USSR in case of a conventional war with the US, but they were actually just as military as they were economic. The idea is to turn the Americans’ main advantage, the fact that they’re geographically detached from the rest of the globe, into a weakness by depriving them of their allies. The American navy would in fact be a deal breaker in case of a global conflict, since it had the ability to cut off the Soviet Union from many of its allies (Vietnam, Laos, Angola, etc.). Therefore, it would be ideal for the hypothetical war to be focused on the Soviet Union’s general vicinity. Due to years of trade with other Asian nations, the Soviet Union’s presence in the Russian Far East would be massive in this world, which renders the US’ chances of capturing Vladivostok mute and leaves only Europe remaining. That’s where befriending western Europe would come into play.

Unlike our world, the USSR would be in a strong position in the late eighties and still butting heads with the US. Any problems that arise on the eastern bloc can probably be solved with military and economic action on the side of the Soviets, especially considering that they don’t need to station five hundred thousand troops in East Germany to guard the border. In the end, though, most of the tension during the Reagan presidency was due to Reagan’s own rhetoric, instead of points of conflict around the globe, like in previous decades. That leads me to believe that he would leave office without a war breaking out. If that’s the case, then the nineties are the apex of this timeline, the moment when the Soviet Union wins the Cold War. But, in order to do so, it’ll need to keep control of the satellite states. It might be possible to do so by liberalizing their regimes at least a bit, such as allowing catholic activity to take place outdoors in Poland. Pretty much all of the Warsaw Pact had some demand that the Soviets could cater to gain their favor. They could organize a historic treaty to give Moldova to Romania (without Transnistria, obviously); apologize to the Hungarians for the way the Hungarian Revolution was handled back in 1956; back an Albanian claim to Kosovo; etc. Those wouldn’t completely erase decades of Soviet oppression, so Moscow would also have to give out some of the dollars it gained from trade with the West to meet the difference.

The president at the time, George H.W. Bush, was one of the savviest in American history when it came to foreign policy. In our world, the ex-CIA member was able to build strong alliances with Middle Eastern nations that would go on to secure American interests until he left office. In this timeline, he’d most definitely see through the Soviet Union’s attempt to extend its umbrella of influence. He would try to bolster support for America in Europe by extending lines of credit to EEC countries. It would usually be a smart move to support the IRA in its endeavors in Northern Ireland, since it’s very disruptive to the UK, America’s closest ally in Europe. However, anything the USSR does wrong might provoke a knee jerk reaction in western Europe, with the French, Italians and Spanish no longer thinking of America as enough of a bad guy to get friendlier to the Soviets. A better way to deal with The Troubles would be to use formal channels to disavow the decisions of the British parliament during the conflicts and publicly support the idea of a united Ireland, but without stablishing direct contact with any armed groups.

The Soviets would decry American actions during the Gulf War and try to use Iran as a conduit for influence in the Middle East, but they wouldn’t have long enough to do that, because the biggest geopolitical crisis of the century would hit: the Yugoslav Wars. Since the Stalin-Tito Split, Yugoslavia had stubbornly remained far away from the Soviet sphere of influence, which we cannot allow because it cuts off the Union from the Adriatic Sea, complicating our dreams of an infrastructure network that connects Eurasia without contact to the major oceans. However, in a time when the Yugoslav government, and I mean Serbia when I say Yugoslav government, was having trouble in not only defending communism, but also keeping the country together, the USSR has an opportunity. In our world, the Russian Federation was too busy trying to not implode to pay attention to Yugoslavia, so it was left up to the US, now the world’s sole superpower, to decide how to engage the situation. This world, however, would see the Soviets arm the Serbian forces as well as provide military advisory. I don’t believe this would be enough for the Serbs to prevent the landslide that would be Operation Storm, though. On the eve of an obvious Serbian defeat, the Soviet high command would take the gloves off and send in the Red Army.

The Warsaw Pact isn’t like NATO, who was able to decline US’ pleas to join in the Vietnam War, so the Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians would be forced to let Soviet troops through in order to get to Yugoslavia. Hundreds of main battle tanks of the T line would cross the Great Hungarian Pain, swarming any and everything in Vojvodina. Unlike the rest of the country, the flat nature of the region would force the Croatians to directly engage the Soviets, who would outnumber Tuđman's forces five to one, maybe more if the politburo really wants to crush the Croatians. Croatian presence in Serbia proper would be effectively erased, and the Russian steamroller would then turn to march upon Slavonia. That area, like Vojvodina, is dead flat, perfect for an army based on armored cavalry, which would scare the Americans into a realization: for the first time since WW2, the Soviet sphere of influence in Europe was going to expand instead of retract.

There’s no way the US would tolerate that. In Congress, the Republicans would be absolutely fired up, with war hawks trying desperately to get the country into war. On the other hand, the democrat base would be split. Since Clinton was always on the more moderate side of his party, promoting fiscal responsibility and free trade, he’d probably lead the pro-war wing to victory in Congress and declare war. Before going to war outright, however, the Americans would try to get their allies on board. The French Foreign Legion represents the strongest European military presence outside the continent, and France is one of the most self-sufficient economies in Europe as well. So, Frenchmen’s decision to join the war or not would surely pull the other members of NATO. Smaller powers, like Denmark and Greece, who would be essential to the American war effort, would not get into a war when one of the few members with actual military power backs out.

For multiple reasons, I believe French leadership would choose not to charge into Yugoslavia with America. Among the bedrock of the US’ European alliance (West Germany, UK, Italy and France), the French had always been the most independent of the bunch. Due to natalist policies, its population was still relatively young, so there was some fervor left in its political sphere. Also, the country actively worked against the Americans to further its own geopolitical interests, such as in the Suez Crisis, where it pulled out with much more reluctance than the UK. It also had its very own nuclear program, one which bore fruits completely independent of the Manhattan Project, while the British begged for help and the Soviets stole American tech through espionage. With trade deals flowing back and forth between the USSR and France, a war with the Soviets would cut France off from its main provider of resources and computers, as well as a great number of possible tourists, which is the country’s main industry. The French president of the time, whoever he would be considering the backlash against neoconservatism, would issue an official statement declaring that, since Yugoslavia had not attacked a member of NATO, France was under no obligation to intervene in its civil war.

After France, the next country to back out would be Italy. Their proximity to Slovenia would make Italian cities like Trieste and Venice the only western cities under genuine threat of a Soviet attack, or at the very least some bombing. Fearing the effects such a thing would have upon Italy’s economy, the Italians would pull out under the same justification, but only after the French did so. Once Italy and France voiced their neutrality about the Soviet invasion of Yugoslavia, Greece and Norway, the only ones that still bordered the Warsaw Pact, would voice neutrality too. After that, probably Denmark, Spain and Portugal would be next. Yet, some among NATO would prove themselves far more loyal to America and join it in the crusade against communism. I’m not entirely sure, but Britain would probably be one of those, as well as the Canadians and the Australians.

Canada and Australia have a history of following America as far as they can without implementing conscription (look at Afghanistan and Vietnam). I’d say there’s a 100% chance of the Anglosphere sending military advisory and financial support, about a 67% of allowing volunteers to go fight in Yugoslavia and 30% to 40% of the actual army being sent out. I’m divided about Britain, though. If Thatcher was still in power, a British Expeditionary Force would most surely be lent to the Americans. Although the Tories would be in power and giddy to spend some money in the military industrial complex, I don’t think John Mayor had the charisma to convince the British people to dedicate themselves to the war effort. Still, they were high off the victory in the Falklands War, so the British might be arrogant enough to try their luck. Another country that would most definitely stay loyal to America in this world be Turkey. The Turkish Straits were so valuable to the Soviets that the Turks became rightfully terrified of a possible invasion over the course of the Cold War. That, compounded by the fact the most annoying separatist movements of Turkey had a socialist tinge, would drive the Turkish establishment to seek war against the Soviet Union as it invaded Yugoslavia. Also, the most important Turkish urban centers are just close enough to the front to help out without being under actual danger of a war.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the Soviets would try to cool things with its Asian trade partners. Japan’s insular nature and South Korea’s position as the tip of a peninsula would allow American ships, especially carriers, to terrify any enemy troops moving through the area. Not only that, but for as much as the Soviets would have tried turning China into a puppet state, the Middle Kingdom’s sheer numbers would always mean that an Asian front would grant it an undesired amount of influence over any conquered territory. To top everything off, cutting trade ties with the two would significantly hamper the USSR’s ability to satisfy its own market. Kim would desperately ask his overlords in Moscow for permission to pray upon its southern neighbor, but the CPSU would decline his offer while trying as much as possible to maintain a good relationship with the South Koreans and Japanese. Foreseeing a repeat of the Korean War, when Chinese troops crossed the border and reconquered the entirety of North Korea with sheer numbers, the American leadership would forge an unspoken deal with the USSR to not bring their Asian allies into the fight.

Going counter-clock wise around Eurasia, here’s how the fronts would play out:

*Second post because I obviously couldn't fit it all in a single one*​

A hastily prepared force of international forces, the overwhelming majority of it coming from the Anglosphere, would land on Rijeka. There would be conflict happening throughout the entire country, but the first order of business for the British, Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders would be to secure a perimeter around Zagreb and a supply route to the city. Meanwhile, the American navy would make sure to shell Montenegro’s most important coastal cities, as it was the Serbs’ main sea access. Zagreb lies on the Great Hungarian Plain, though, so the US, as the largest military, would have to deploy a huge fighting force, probably in the tens of thousands, to compensate for its lack of natural defenses. On a sidenote, I find it unlikely that the Warsaw Pact would grant the Soviets a lot of military assistance, since their own forces would be needed in order to keep down their own people.

As the most densely populated area of Croatia, the Soviet conquest of Slavonia would create a refugee crisis. Many Croats would fear the actions of the Serbian military tailing the Red Army, so many of them would flee west, towards the American controlled coastal areas, out of their own accord. However, when the USSR’s forces clashed with American ones outside Zagreb, they’d meet serious resistance for the first time. Although the Soviets would have numerical advantage, coming from Hungary and Romania simultaneously, the Americans would have geography to their advantage, with mountains protecting their backs. The fighting would become vicious, taking place on the outskirts of the Croatian capital as well as a lot of shells hitting it either by accident or deliberately from the Soviet side. Soviet forces would also try to stomp on Slovenia to surround the Americans, which probably wouldn’t succeed, since the regions is really mountainous and the Slovenians had sided with the rebels. With most of their forces dedicated to the fighting in the Great Hungarian Plain, the stomp on Slovenia would fail.

Being coastal and hilly, Dalmatia would be a good position for the Americans to try going into the offensive from. They'd want to divert some of the Soviet forces from the plains outside the Croatian capital and its plain geography by forcing them to engage the Anglophone forces in Bosnia. The Soviet Union would have spent less on its military in this world, so, although it would still be bigger than America’s, their number of tanks wouldn’t be as great as it always in our timeline. Therefore, fighting in the valleys of Bosnia wouldn’t be out of the question for the US, which means that most densely inhabited sections of the region would become battlegrounds. Under these circumstances, the same violent war crimes committed in our world (won’t say who committed them, because I don’t anyone pissed in the comments) would happen here too. The American forces in Yugoslavia would always be smaller than the Soviets’, both by virtue of proximity and the fact that all Anglosphere’s professional soldiers combined would still be outnumbered by the five million strong Red Army.

Finally, we can go see what’s happening a bit further east. One must always take into account how much the military has intervened in Turkey’s democratic institutions, and that it always entered as well as left on its own terms. When white and golden stars clashed over the Yugoslav sky, the Turkish military would depose the government of the day under the excuse of “guaranteeing the success in the war”. Afterwards, they’d begin mounting up a defense on their border with Georgia, which would devolve into border skirmishes as the region isn’t essential to the greater scope of the war, and ask for increased American military presence in the Black Sea. The US would decline at first, believing that taking the fight to beyond the Bosporus, into the Soviets’ backyard, might turn the war in Yugoslavia from small bickering with purely strategic ambitions, to an actual war where invasions of each country’s mainland is possible.

However, as time would pass and the situation in Yugoslavia would become gradually less tenable, the American military would be forced to choose whether or not they needed to invade the USSR proper in order to get the Soviets out of their comfort zone. The US, unlike the Soviet Union, was and is a democratic state. Democracies can only handle so much war before the population becomes weary and votes out the war hawks. A good analogy would be that, in the beginning of any given conflict, the American public gives its military a “paycheck of patience”, meaning that the soldiers can only cause so much discomfort to the people back home before they’re pulled out, like what happened in Vietnam. The Soviet Union doesn’t have the same problem, because, although their political system offers a small semblance of reaction to public outrage in the form of voter absence, it has much longer before actually having to deal with the public’s opinion of the conflict. All of this would drive American leadership to attempt an offensive that would, at least in theory, disproportionally demand more resources from the Soviets to defend than from the Americans to attack: a takeover of the Crimean Peninsula.

Crimea under American control would allow the US Navy to launch attacks wherever it wanted and how it wanted. It would also completely lock the Soviet Union out of having a response to this naval onslaught, as its maritime strategy was entirely reliant on the peninsula. There would also be the threat of an attack upon the Ukraine, which would terrify the Soviets even if a lot of the food production had been outsourced to Central Asia and Siberia. Thus, the Crimean Campaign would commence. In a comical repeat of the Crimean War from the 19th century, the USSR’s Black Sea fleet would be completely obliterated by the superior navy of the Anglos. The American fleet wouldn’t have hegemony in the Black Sea yet due to Soviet control of multiple important ports, so I’d expect some skirmishes to break out as the US advances to try seizing the peninsula. American ships would shell Sevastopol mercilessly to make a point for why they were there, while the VVS and US Airforce would clash. With factories much closer to the front, the Soviets would be able to grossly outnumber the Americans in the sky, leading to greater air support for the Red Army in the region. Eventually the Americans would get tired and try to land on Crimea. They wouldn’t go head first into Sevastopol, instead trying to seize towns around it to encircle the forces stationed in the city. However, that would fail, both due to sheer tenacity from the Soviets to try protecting their homeland and, more importantly, conscription being put in place.

Neither of the two superpowers would have been interested in causing an all-out war over a minor nation like Yugoslavia, which was just a prize for the greater geopolitical struggle instead of essential buffer like Romania or Poland, but the invasion of Crimea would change that. The politburo’s paranoia about security on the Soviet Union’s borders would be significantly increased with, well, an invasion of their actual territory, thus throwing everything to the fan and going in overdrive full war mode. Ukrainian boys would be conscripted en mass to combat the American invasion of Crimea, which would turn into a slug race just like its 19th century counterpart due to the sheer number of people compressed into such a small territory. Eventually, though, I can see the Americans being pushed out of their landing areas as the USSR reverts to WW2 levels of military production.

Failing to seize Crimea would deter America from truly dedicating itself to raids in the eastern bloc’s coastal territory, being restricted to more of a passive blockade. The one who would suffer most from the American failure, though, would be Turkey. After American troops had gotten to the Soviet mainland by crossing the Turkish Straits, the feeling that Turkey had to be taught a lesson would be instilled in the Red Army. Not only that, but the flood gates would have been opened by the Soviet Union putting conscription in place. Due to fear of being pushed out of Yugoslavia by the greater Soviet numbers, the America government would begin its own conscriptions. However, the US conscription system would be much less thorough than the Soviet one, since its politicians don’t want to anger the populace too much. The Yugoslav front would become paralyzed for a bit, with the Soviets firmly holding the Croatian countryside, the Americans the coast and the Bosnia-Herzegovina being just a blood fest, and everyone would turn their eyes to the skirmishes turning into an actual front in eastern Anatolia.

Unlike the Turkish leadership’s expectations, though, the Red Army wouldn’t try to make its way to Ankara. No, the Soviet leadership, in tandem with the Iranian leadership, would be thinking ahead for a greater Middle Eastern sphere of influence. The Soviets would pretty much ignore central Anatolia, marching southwards to connect with the Kurdish fighting groups in Iraq. The main Kurdish militia is the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which the USSR would want to help build its own state for obvious reasons, and Iraq is of Shia majority, which is an excuse often used by Iran to spread its influence in neighboring states. They would both fall upon Iraq, whose pathetic military barely stood against the Iranians in in the 1980’s and would most definitely crumble under the weight of the Red Army. The northern section of the country would be quickly be conquered by a coalition of Kurdish, Iranian and Soviet forces.

That’s when America would have to make a very difficult decision. The fact of the matter is that, in the situation at hand, they can’t hold all fronts. Most of their strength would be used to protect Zagreb, Dalmatia and at least some sections of Bosnia-Herzegovina anyway, and the ones that weren't there would be in Turkey, making sure that the Soviet push into Iraq wasn’t a diversionary tactic to distract America from the Anatolian countryside. So, I don’t think they’d have the proper number of troops to try saving Iraq, especially considering that Iran would be pitching into the fight with the Soviets. Once they arrived at Bagdad, the politburo of the Soviet Union and the Iranian priesthood would brutally execute the entirety of the country’s bureaucracy, as a way to scare Ba’ath sympathizers and pan-Arabists, both of whom would want the USSR and Iran out of the Middle East. Then, the Soviets would entrust the Ayatollah with turning Iraq into a docile and friendly state, while the Red Army would join forces with Kurdish militias to liberate the Kurds in southeastern Anatolia.

Considering how much trouble the Turkish government had to trying to control the Kurds in the southeast of the country, if the rebels were backed by the Soviets, I doubt that the Turkish military would be able to hold. Like I said, the Americans would let the Iranians and Soviets have their way with Iraq in order to focus on Turkey and Yugoslavia. However, the Americans would know that a Soviet win in Yugoslavia would make American leadership of the West seem weak to European countries, who might start to seek a fully independent foreign policy. Since Europe is more important culturally and economically for the American public, the US wouldn’t really dedicate that much to helping the Turks, who would be pushed back like nobody’s business. Already thinking about the future of the Kurdish state it would intend to create, the Soviets would lead the Kurds in an offensive to reach coastal cities like Iskenderun. This would most surely work, with the Turks way more worried about defending against a possible siege of Ankara.

On the other hand, the Americans would probably have succeeded in securing some of key points in the Bosnian hills due to the lessening of pressure from the Soviets. However, defending the Yugoslav hills is one thing, taking them is another. Although America would be able to protect its position, it wouldn’t be able to push southward, into Montenegro or Serbia proper. They wouldn’t be able to get the Soviets out of Slavonia either, and wouldn’t even dream about seeing the fields of Vojvodina, since tanks, the Soviets’ specialty, reign absolute in open terrain. On a side note, minorities located outside their namesake state’s perimeter, like the Serbs in Bosnia, would be subject to some really bad treatment. I’d expect one or two orthodox priests to be tortured under the accusation of being Serbian sympathizers, as well as whole blocs of Serbian towns to be burned out to “force the Serbian soldiers hiding there to show up”. But for as bad as things might be for the Serbs, it would be much, much worse for the Croatian refugees.

With Slavonia, Croatia’s most populous province, occupied by Soviet and Serbian forces, a massive refugee crisis would ensue. In an attempt to delay and hamper the American military, the communists would send these refugees westward. The western, coastal part of Croatia isn’t as rich in resources, so it would become extremely reliant on the Americans for aid. A lot of Croats wouldn’t stay in the country, initiating a massive diaspora throughout the entire world, as hundreds of thousands of Croatians migrate to any country that would accept them. Like during the Vietnam War, most of them would probably end up in the US itself, creating a whole new subculture in America.

In the end, the fact that America was a democracy would foresee its doom. The general trend in history for America is that it is primarily a reactive superpower. Its public has little interest in wars that aren’t directly beneficial to the economy, the exception being Latin America, where the US will intervene for often petty reasons. If they do start one, however, the democratic nature of the country will cause its leaders to pull out if it isn’t ended quickly enough. In both world wars, the US reacted to German and Japanese aggression, and they pulled out of Vietnam because the lack of international support, which they had in the Korean War. The UK, no longer being an imperialist power by the end of the 20th century, wouldn’t find in itself the will to implement conscription, and the same goes for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This means that, when the Soviets implemented conscription, America would have to bear most weight. The Soviets would also be fighting much closer to home than the Americans, with a closer military industrial complex. Once casualties reached hundreds of thousands or millions, which is just a regular Friday to the Soviets, a horrified American public would demand their boys be brought back.
The American military would hesitantly pull out after a treaty signed between them and the Soviets that would theoretically guarantee some safeties to the remaining Croatians, although the USSR would do little to enforce it. US generals would warn Turkish authorities about the fact that America would soon pull out of the region and no longer be able to back Turkey’s efforts to subdue the Kurds, which would lead to a treaty loathed by Turkish authorities. Wanting above all a buffer for the Transcaucasian republics, the USSR would seek to make Kurdistan as big as possible. The Soviets would consider the entire region occupied by them as Kurdistan, and although Turkish leadership wouldn’t want to recognize it, it really wouldn’t be in a position to deny the Soviets anything. This would result in many Turks ending up trapped in the newly founded Kurdistan, and a population exchange thereafter, not dissimilar to the one between Turkey and Greece after WW1.

After so many Croatians left the country and having the backing of the Soviets, the Serbs would turn Yugoslavia inside out to make it as pleasant as possible to them. This would entail the settlement of Serbians in the now underpopulated Slavonia region, as well as maybe the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet as the country’s sole official one. Furthermore, the country’s infrastructure would be in shambles, so while the reconstruction efforts go on, Yugoslavia would become a Soviet economic dependency, making the Serbian leadership even more indebted to the Soviet politburo. I predict that only a few months after the end of the Yugoslav Wars in this world, Yugoslavia would join the Warsaw Pact, Cominform and Comecon. If the USSR did back an Albanian claim to Kosovo, I can see it being consolidated and Kosovo being integrated into the People’s Republic of Albania.

In the Middle East, the creation of the People’s Republic of Kurdistan would present a danger as well as an opportunity. Two possibilities can rise out of the situation: Syria and Iran had built relationships with the Soviet Union, but the birth Kurdistan would spark secessionist movements in their own territories, which have large Kurdish minorities, thus leading to a breakup in the bloc. The other option is a population exchange being organized, which would be made possible by the huge swath of land the Kurds would have taken from the Turks. Either way, Kurdistan would become one of the USSR’s most loyal allies, similar to what Israel is for the US.

The effects of these developments upon the West’s psyche would be immense. First and foremost, the feeling that NATO was a pointless organization would spread like wildfire. The one and only clash between Soviet and American forces, and Europe wasn’t there to help the Americans. If that situation couldn’t get Danes, Portuguese, Dutch, etc. to pick up rifles, then what would? In one form or another, the North Atlantic Treaty would be forsaken as a pointless and unrealistic endeavor. If the Anglo-Americans didn’t do the favor of leaving themselves, then the French would under the pretext of that the Americans were poor leaders and were sinking the boat with their warmongering. Other European nations, especially ones with deep trade or cultural ties with France, would follow suit with the same excuses. Italy, Spain and Belgium would probably be the first ones to follow the French, then the Netherlands, Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece and Ireland. Finally, the Swedes and Finns would join the French bloc with some caveats to not anger the Soviets. It is important to highlight, though, that this alliance with France as its hegemon wouldn’t evolve into the European Union, like happened in our world.

The main bedrock for European integration beyond the customs union in our world was Germany. Its willingness to drop the Deutsche Mark lent the idea of the Euro some credibility, and I doubt that France would be willing to go through the same process. Instead, there would be free movement of people and goods, but no European parliament and a far lesser sense of European solidarity when one of the members went through economic hardship. The French military, the strongest one in peninsular Europe by far, would more or less become the catalyst for a multitude of European foreign interests. For example, detached from America, Europe would have to secure its oil supply on its own, a duty the American military had taken up almost out of kindness, considering the different sources Americans and Europeans had for their oil. Seeing as how 40% of Europe’s supply of crude oil comes from ex-Soviet nations, France would have to bring Turkey, as gatekeeper of the Bosporus, under its umbrella in order to have some bargaining power against the USSR. That might lead to Greece defecting in the years to come, but that’s ahead of topic.

By the way, since I mentioned Turkey, here’s what would happen to it: similar to the Israelis, after a bloody and vicious war against a coalition of its neighbors, they’d have to militarize to an insane degree. The prejudice against Kurds would also increase exponentially in the country. There would be a very bloody population exchange between Turkey and Kurdistan, mostly to get the remaining Turks out of Kurdistan’s newly gained coastline. After losing a war so roundly, the Turkish junta would have no option but to leave, but as is the trend with military dictatorships in Turkey, it’d do so in its own terms and when it wanted to. Also, when the military government did step down, the civilian government coming up next would most definitely be highly nationalistic and conservative, in response to the rise in tensions between Turkey and its neighbors.

Meanwhile, America would see a resurgence in isolationism unlike any before. Although Clinton would be reelected, as all American presidents have been during war time, the end of his presidency would be the start for some really dark days for the Democrat party. Letting Yugoslavia be taken by the Reds would be seen as a major geopolitical disaster by the American people as a whole, bigger than anything ever done by the Republicans, even Watergate. Upon Clinton’s departure from office, Republicans would win House, Congress and Presidency on a landslide, with the Democrats being seen as too soft to be trusted in a critical moment. The Republican president, no matter who he’d be, would come to power with a resurgent Reaganite rhetoric in the social sphere, but it would not be the same for the economy. The main difference is that he’d come to power with a proposal for a trading system that favors American defense strategy. Basically, only trading with countries that America has control over. There would be huge talks of bringing back industries and putting protective measures in place, as well as trying to resurrect an American spirit through a revival of the nuclear family and Christianity. Basically, Trump but two decades early.

There would also be a gigantic rift in France-United Kingdom relations. The British would feel betrayed that after so many promises, the French backed out when it mattered most. I can perfectly see many political groups reaching back to historical facts to show the British people why the continent is unreliable. There would be a drive for unraveling the UK from Europe, both geopolitically and economically. As a result, the talks about CANZUK we see today, in the aftermath of Brexit, would be twenty years older in this timeline. In our world, these are barely taken seriously, since the sheer distance makes impractical for Australia to prioritize Canada as a trade partner, for example. However, in this world, someone has an interest in making the Anglosphere independent: the US. The American government would create some kind of fund to subsidize trade between the British Isles and what had once been the White Dominions, thus making the consolidation of CANZUK possible. This trade ring would be highly reliant on the Suez Canal, though, meaning that, just like France would do with Turkey, the Anglo-Americans would have to bring Egypt under their wing in order to secure their interests.

There are interesting ramifications for countries that were communist during the Cold War but abandoned the ideology after the fall of the Soviet Union. Most of the Third World’s communist dictatorships were not born out of an awakening in class conscience, but of the economic and political interests of a handful of military thugs who wanted funding to sustain their regimes. In a manner similar to the nations of the Warsaw Pact, once the Soviet Union ran out of steam and had to pay attention inwards, many of these nations collapsed. However, in this world, the Soviets still have the strength to project power outwards, so they’d probably keep a strong grip on much of the Third World. One such case would Vietnam, who would never open itself to the world, since its paymaster, the USSR, would still be fat with cash. Another example would be South Yemen, whose ruling party would probably receive a lot of Soviet aid to stay alive and win the civil war.

I can’t really predict what happens in the next century, especially with meddling from the Soviet Union in the Middle East. However, before ending this alternate history, I’ll make a few comments on the situation of the USSR by the end of the 1990’s. Once Kim Il-Sung died, the Soviets would back a coup d’état against his son to prevent the formation of the Kim family as a dynasty. Although the sheer size of the North Korean military might prove a hindrance to Soviet power projection, the Soviets would probably bribe one of the main generals of the country enough to nullify the army’s involvement in the affair. The USSR would do so to make North Korea a better buffer by increasing its stability through economic development, which would never be possible under the Kims and Juche, as well as tranquilizing the South Koreans by having a less insane dictator to their north. Since we’re talking about the USSR’s trade partners, just let me mention that the ties to Germany would have increased, as Japan and South Korea would have restricted their exchanges with the Soviets in silent support of the Americans.

There would be some exceptions to this rule, however. The first exceptions that come to mind are the Republic of the Congo and Togo. The pull of the CFA Franc would be too much for them to resist, and trade deals with Françafrique would be far more interesting to them than Soviet aid. Also, the Americans would never allow a communist government to remain in power in Central America, so the Soviet Union can’t really protect Nicaragua without using its nukes. Finally, the Maoist era’s crushing misery would have been perpetuated in China without Xiaoping’s reforms, so the Chinese would have to embrace market reforms at some point, like I said. This would probably take place in the nineties, after the Soviets displaced the Kim dynasty to pander to the South Koreans. After that, the CCP would seek a new entanglement with foreign investors. Although France would want to pitch in, it simply wouldn’t have the same capital as America, who would make an exception to its isolationist policies to invest in China and thus create a counter weight to Soviet-aligned India. When China did that, though, the communist parties of Tibet, Greater Mongolia and Xinjiang would demand independence and receive support from the Soviet Union. China would have to comply, considering how weak it would be due to so many years of communism. The Chinese would also be forced to cede Aksai Chin to India to strengthen the Indian claim to Kashmir.

France would also have some beef with the Americans. Besides the obvious resentment due to French neutrality in the war, France would have a conflict of interests with Anglos regarding the status of Gibraltar. Like the Suez, Gibraltar would be essential to making sure that trade flows freely between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, thus preserving the independence of the British. The French would try to back Spain’s claim to the Strait to get some more revenue and power for the European coalition they would have built, and the Anglo-Americans would want it to stay firmly in crown hands. With a much more powerful military, the US be able to preserve the status quo, but it would also probably bribe Morocco to allow troops in its territory to improve the American military’s position in the western Mediterranean. The attrition between Anglo-Americans and Europeans might cause an escalation once Quebec gets interested in independence, but that’s already too far into the future.

Other countries would drift away from the Soviet Union out of their accord, as would be the case with Iran. The Iranians would detangle themselves from the Soviet sphere to seek their own ambition, which would involve springing up theocracies in the Middle East. This would bring them into conflict with French, who would be meddling in the region in order to secure their oil supply. I predict that ISIS would show up much earlier in this timeline, especially considering that Kurdistan would have taken a chunk of Iraq during its birth and thus decreased the Iraqi regime’s credibility. At the same time, the French would be the ones propping up the central government of Iraq to make sure that the oil pumps remain open (yep, the soldiers of this world’s Iraq War would be eating baguettes for dinner). The French and Iranians would clash in other places too, and the Soviets would often intervene in favor of whoever had aligned interest with them at the time. For example, in North Yemen, the Iranians would support an uprising from the Shia minority and the French would be dragged into the conflict by an alliance with the Saudis, all while the Soviets are trying to keep the communist regime in South Yemen stable.

Ironically enough, this timeline might end up butterflying Taiwan and South Korea out of their allegiances with America. Since the US would try to prop up China, it would have to forsake the island in one way or another. I don’t think this would lead to an alliance with the USSR, since its navy would still be too puny to properly assist an insular nation. So, the remaining option would be the French, who might pick Taiwan up as a missile base to threaten the Russian Far East. South Korea might become a capitalist ally of the Soviets if they do the same thing they did with Germany, offering the communist counterpart as a gift of good will. Due to proximity, the USSR would have inevitably become South Korea’s main trade partner, so it would be economically beneficial to lean closer to them too. What might prevent the South Koreans from accepting the offer would be the fear of having a direct border with the Soviets and being forced Finlandize.

Well, that was a lot. Anyway, I want to thank you if you made it this far and say that I wrote all of this while listening to Red Alert 3’s soundtrack.