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Background: in my setting, there's a regional-scale nuclear war across most of Europe that primarily uses gun-type and boosted fission weapons. Essentially, mash this map and this map together, and assume a level of development/city-building roughly equivalent to 2020 IRL, other than the fact that nukes are rather new.

Then, hit every population center, military facility, shipyard, strategic command center, or other semi-important node on the fusion of those two maps with a fission bomb. Basically, civilization is dead in that section of Europe.

Now, let's say that most of the world mobilizes as part of a disaster-relief effort comparable in scale to WW2. Again, the worldwide level of development is somewhat similar to 2020, meaning that, given time, they probably will reconstruct that region. However, you can't have a post-apocalyptic story with Nazi sasquatch vampires (long story) in it without having a post-apocalypse, and so if that relief effort gets into place, it seems like things would be boring story-wise.

Therefore, I'd like to drag the post-apocalyptic period - i.e. from when the bombs drop to "bare minimum functionality" - out a little. I define "bare minimum functionality" as "there are structures set up for delivering aid, everyone generally knows where everyone else is, and things are generally not 'Mad Max' anymore" - think the beginning of post-hurricane cleanup and reconstruction, but across all of Europe.

Question: after a devastating nuclear war that occurs in Europe, why would it take years to decades for the area and its occupants to receive external aid?

I was considering using the Marshall Plan as a data point here, but, unlike IRL post-WW2 Europe, things aren't "shattered" or "impoverished" but still there; they're gone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah! Thank you!! Close vote retracted! And comments deleted as no longer necessary. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 16, 2021 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ things are generally not 'Mad Max' anymore - then you skipped the 28 years that the Berlin Wall stood. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Aug 17, 2021 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura I'd say that was the opposite of Mad Max: a lot of order, rather than a lot of chaos. Too much, in fact. $\endgroup$
    – KEY_ABRADE
    Aug 17, 2021 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura That wasn't Mad Max - that was a grey, totalitarian version of Escape from New York. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Aug 17, 2021 at 8:53

13 Answers 13

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Famine in Asia.

I was reading about the Laki eruption in Iceland in 1783. It caused global cooling and crop failures all over the world; also terrible flooding in Northern Europe because of the early freeze and subsequent melt. After a nuclear war this would be called nuclear winter. I was interested to see that the Laki eruption was only mentioned in the additional reading section of the wikipedia article but it is definitely a historical precedent for this type of thing being possible.

Aid is slow to come because there are lots of people who need aid elsewhere. The population of Europe is only a small percentage of what it was but there are still lots of people in other parts of the world. When crops fail because of the June freeze those people will go hungry. Persons in a position to send aid send it to regions where masses of people are starving, not to the few survivors still hunkered down in the ruins of Europe.

It takes a couple of years for Earth to shake off the nuclear winter. And during those years, bad things happened elsewhere that continued to be bad once the world warmed up. The rest of the world is not the same when the skies clear. It takes a while more for the rest of the world to sort out their own affairs, and then they start wondering what is going on in Europe.

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    $\begingroup$ I saw a YT vid of a scientiest analysing a hypthetical nuclear war between india and paktistan. With 200 nuclear missiles, and estimated 2 billion people would die. While china would loose about 30-40% of it's rice production for 5 years before it slowly rises again, most people would die in south america. The nuclear winter would last about 10 years (slowly rising after an estimated 5). A rough estimate of the area OP depicted, 200 nukes ain't gonna cut it. So the nuclear winter could last decades and cause famine worldwide. $\endgroup$
    – Benjamin
    Aug 16, 2021 at 11:46
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The europeans left automated nuclear weapons ready to launch nuclear missiles against countries which helped out.

The europeans didn't want outsiders coming in to invade them, and so left hidden nuclear weapons in mountain silos and submarines looking for large concentrations of people moving machinery into their countries.

Unfortunately, this is what aid workers look like. Several surrounding countries that supported aid got nuclear strikes, and efforts to rebuild cities have also attracted nuclear strikes.

No one knows how many submarines or silos there are left, or how many nuclear weapons are left, and no one wants to do anything with the region in the near future.

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    $\begingroup$ You want Skynet? This is how you get Skynet. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 16, 2021 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ Our scientists assured us our new genetic algorithms are immune to any skynet like scenarios. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 16, 2021 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep but they are not immune to sticky labels. Just get your military tanks to spell out "AID WORKERS" in formation. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2021 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ this is actually the source of the sticky label attack but it's rather long. I linked a different blog post as it has a sticky label example right at the top. $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2021 at 17:34
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The scale of the problem and the contamination left afterwards.

Conventional natural disasters and wars don't have the added element of fallout to contend with. If as you say the war involved nuclear detonations across wide regions of Europe and the Med then the scale of planning and logistics required for any relief effort would be huge and hence require years to implement.

As an example after the 2011 earthquake in Northern Japan relief efforts for that disaster were commenced immediately by the Japanese government with cleanup up/disaster relief in most areas proceeding apace. With the single exception of Fukshima where one single issue - radioactive decontamination vastly slowed down and complicated relief and repair efforts.

Allowing for the fact that the contamination issues from bombs and melt downs are by no means identical the simple duty of care owed by other nations to their own citizens (EMT workers and soldiers) assigned to the relief effort would vastly slow things down. There simply wouldn't be enough decon equipment available to let people move about safely for extended periods of time. Note; This is especially relevant because the fallout from the war (environmental, economic and social) would reach far beyond Europe shores and many nations would have to deal with panic/emergencies at home before they could respond in mass.

Some initial relief parties might arrive quickly but all they could do is establish beachheads in relative safe zones and then deal with any refuges who make it to those zones (probably all on the coast because most large airports would probably be unusable and in general Europe's transport infrastructure - highways/bridges railways airports and canals etc would be badly damaged. So there would be outposts on the coast and perhaps elsewhere from which relief would have to slowly work its way outward over years. (Especially if as you say there are resident dangers/monsters making progress even more dangerous.)

In fact after the first few months or so anyone who can be 'saved' probably would have been saved. This is because without immediate help many of the survivors/injured would die anyway unless they reached a safe zone under their own steam. The main initial effort might simply be to send 'rescue' parties to recover VIPs and important works of art etc.

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Great Depressions, war fears, Racism, Pandemics, Politics, Paranoia:

There are all sorts of reasons that a world relief movement would stall out, so let's go into a few.

  • Massive Recession(s): The war triggers a massive economic disruption, and global economies withdraw sharply. Rather than spend billions of dollars on trying to rebuild the devastated region, governments instead use funds to shore up their own economies. Token relief goes out, mostly civilian-driven efforts.
  • Fears of War: The societal restrictions on nuclear war are lifted, and everyone fears the outbreak of the next big one. The influences of the destroyed powers have thrown geopolitical balances out of balance, and dozens of small wars and revolutions start. Terrorists bomb relief ships, and the remnants of the two sides may STILL be at war, or extremist groups within/near the devastated region are still trying to "win" the war by the most brutal and ruthless means necessary.
  • No Jews or Irish Allowed: The war has caused old racial tensions to rise, and preachers on TV tell people the folks in country X are wicked killers who got what they deserved by starting a nuclear war; God has punished them and giving them mercy would be challenging the word of God. Former colonial states of the warring powers lobby the UN to stop relief efforts, and the current head of the UN is one of them. Refugees are actually sent BACK to the war zone from safe havens elsewhere. While not enough to stop all relief efforts, they could certainly rob them of almost all energy and enthusiasm.
  • Pestilence: Alongside the nukes, someone has unleashed para-anthrax, super-smallpox, and several other diseases from labs on purpose or accident from the war zone. Besides the massive disruption to the globe from diseases, people fear going into the war zone and potentially unleashing a new wave of pestilence upon the world. Experts agree the region should be sealed off and aid placed at the periphery to prevent the spread of new illness.
  • Political Rivalry: The allies of side X are still at odds with the allies of side Y. Both sides want to help their former allies, but each is ready to go to war with each other, and the waters/trade routes to move supplies into the region are embargoed. Both sides blame the other for the standoff, but are each willing to let the people of the region suffer for political gain. Aid dribbles in, but it's tepid at best.
  • Fear of the Unknown: After the conflict, aid starts to pour in, only to dry up as people start telling stories of radioactive mutants, superbugs causing disease, and Nazi vampire mutant sasquatches. Conspiracy theorists tell people it was all a scam, and there was no war - it was done with miniature cities in a studio in Hollywood. Or the Nazis are using the aid to build the 4th Reich with genetically engineered super-species that will conquer the world. While OBVIOUSLY fake (MUTANT Nazi vampire sasquatches? How can anyone believe that?) millions of people do believe, and oppose aid. A few countries even actively disrupt aid efforts to contain the threat. While aid gets in, it's not nearly what people in the region need to rebuild.
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  • $\begingroup$ To be clear, the vampire sasquatches are a part of worldwide life in this 'erse, and it's just the ones that nuked themselves that are Nazi-esque. However, that's a story for another time. $\endgroup$
    – KEY_ABRADE
    Aug 16, 2021 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ @KEY_ABRADE Perhaps, but are they MUTANT Nazi vampire sasquatches? $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 16, 2021 at 5:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, yes, those are completely different. Good point, it's the fear of the "other" that would do it. $\endgroup$
    – KEY_ABRADE
    Aug 16, 2021 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ Conspiracy theorists claim there was no Europe ;) $\endgroup$
    – abukaj
    Aug 16, 2021 at 16:10
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After the initial wave of relief effort, nobody cares enough to follow through.

We have areas of the globe today that have suffered disasters where the relief effort has not yet fully mitigated the effects of the disaster. The damage from the 2010 Haiti earthquake, for example, was never fully repaired - and they now have another another, larger (by the Richter scale) earthquake to deal with.

Your future history can feature an initial burst of recovery activity, complete with self-congratulatory press conferences by the aid-sending nations - and then a couple of decades of bad follow-through, with half-hearted and contradictory efforts being launched and then abandoned, with corruption eating up most of the aid funds before anything practical actually is accomplished. It wouldn't require anything particularly dramatic; it just requires business as usual.

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  • $\begingroup$ Haiti, Puerto Rico, big chunks of Africa. How many people knew there were already 2.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan last year? $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2021 at 0:05
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Look at what's been hit:

Then, hit every population center, military facility, shipyard, strategic command center, or other semi-important node on the fusion of those two maps with a fission bomb.

Aid doesn't magically teleport itself to needy individuals. Your war has systematically destroyed the transportation infrastructure for an entire continent. Getting aid to anywhere except the coastal cities requires rebuilding that infrastructure.

You're comparing the relief effort to World War II in level of effort, so that suggests two points of comparison:

  • The Berlin Airlift. It took the entire airborne logistics capacity of the United States and British militaries to supply just half of one city by air.
  • Operation Barbarossa. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, they were unable to use the existing logistics network (the railroads were the wrong gauge, and major roads mostly didn't exist). Three years later, when they were forced back out, they still didn't have a working logistics network.

Rebuilding a continent-scale transportation network is hard work. The US Interstate Highway System took 35 years to build; even the original, highly-optimistic estimate called for 12 years of construction.

The "everyone knows were everyone is" part will happen quickly, but areas away from the coastal cities will see little beyond the occasional air drop or survey party for years or even decades.

(Hitting Babylonia isn't helping things: everyone's first priority will be getting the oil wells working again.)

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They don't offer them aid. They offer them escape.

Those coming to the rescue regard the population density as too low to maintain an industrial civilization, especially as all the best sites for cities and such are now rubble.

This reduces the population still more. It consists of those who refuse to leave.

This could be modulated with some aid if that produces a better setup, owing to differences of opinion.

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The US stays out of it

After 1940, Germany could not have invaded Britain; but then again, it would have taken substantially longer for Britain (and the Commonwealth; don't forget the Aussies and Kiwis, nor Indians and others) to have sent an army back to mainland Europe if they were on their own. The Brits had the largest and best navy in the world, and the Commonwealth/Empire had massive amounts of merchant shipping. After initially-disastrous raids by U-boats, the Brits got a grip on things, and after 1943 serving in a U-boat was basically just a question of how long until you died. Germany was completely resource-starved by then, so the Brits could simply had waited them out until they ran out of fuel to run vehicles and planes.

Which leads to why Hitler went into Russia in the first place, which was a land grab for oil reserves. If the war in Russia went the same way as it did for us, then the Red Army would have swept back across Europe whilst the Brits were still on the other side of the English Channel. Maybe the Brits would have hopped across into France in 1945 as the Red Army were pushing the other way, so the Soviets would have stopped at the German border; but maybe not.

Then the nukes happen, across mainland Europe and Britain. Germany is already crushed and can't help themselves; and the countries they conquered were already well past starvation anyway. The Red Army are overextended past their supply lines, and Stalin fundamentally doesn't care about anyone either. Britain was the remaining major industrial power in Europe, but it will have been nuked to a fare-thee-well.

But separately, Japan never bombed Pearl Harbor. Until Pearl Harbor, the US was perfectly happy to keep war in Europe at arms' length and say it was nothing to do with them. So once the war was over, what incentive would there have been for the US to get involved in reconstruction?

Remember that the Marshall Plan was never about charity. It was a profoundly capitalist, profit-centred move. For sure it helped the civilian population massively - but the major reason it took place was to gain substantial US control over technology and manufacturing, as well as significant involvement in the rebuilding work which is always a boom industry after a war. If there isn't a profit to be made, the US simply would not be there.

Humanitarian organisations would naturally be involved, of course. Whilst the US as a country would stay out of it, individual US citizens would certainly be making charitable donations. This is never going to happen on the scale of government assistance though, and there is no United Nations to coordinate relief efforts (remember that the UN was founded explicitly as a response to WWII). Rebuilding is going to be very much piecemeal, and it's going to be dependent on people getting to the aid centres on their own. Simply dealing with those survivors properly will be beyond most relief efforts, never mind going looking for survivors elsewhere.

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  • $\begingroup$ No East or West; Soviet Germany, +1 $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Aug 17, 2021 at 2:51
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There are three factors:

  1. After initial nuclear strike exchange Europe has been deemed a no-go zone. For real life examples please see the Rogue Zone from WWI or the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. To adjust the actual level of contamination to your plot read the last sentence of 3rd factor. ;)

  2. As fires from nuclear strikes released enormous amount of soot into the atmosphere, people all around the globe suffered from nuclear winter. That made them unsympathetic to Europeans, as they face humanitarian crisis themselves as well as blame Europeans for what happened.

  3. As European's economy, culture and population has been destroyed, no politician cares about Europe anymore. And common people have no problem with that, as they believe that Europeans got what they deserved. Moreover, conscience of average man is clean as it is common knowledge that Europe is unhabitable. As the common knowledge is convenient, nobody is interested in factchecking it.

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In addition to other answers about the effect this would have on other countries:

From your description there are a couple of things that stand out as obvious answers to your dilemma

other than the fact that nukes are rather new.

If nukes are new, how well do they understand radiation? The first aid workers to come to the area all start getting sick so they pull out, or possibly just the fear of the newly discovered radiation is enough to stop them even coming in the first place. Have they even developed suitable shielding / treatments to make it safe for aid workers? Maybe 20 years later they finally have suitable NBC suits to allow safe investigation of the area.

unlike IRL post-WW2 Europe, things aren't "shattered" or "impoverished" but still there; they're gone

Combined with a reluctance to put their aid workers at risk, with that level of destruction it might be logical for people to just write off the entire area as lost, why put resources into fixing it when you have your own problems to deal with

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No one likes Europe anymore

Why was there a nuclear war in the first place? European countries differences started to become more and more apparent as they couldn't agree on basic subjects anymore (some wants multiculturalism, others don't. Some wants religious society, others don't etc...). The European Union shattered as it was impossible to run anymore; its members started to not recognize it and not apply its regulations. US, China, Russia etc... at start used this to push their own interests but never intended their allies to go that far. As China today is embarassed by its North Korean ally, US and other involved countries got very embarassed too when their European allies started a real war, even more when they used nuclear weapons.

Now most of the non-European population sees Europeans as stupid aggressive people that made the unthinkable for stupid reasons. They deserve what they got. Why spend hard-earned taxpayer's money to help them?

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Nazi sasquatch vampires (And their thralls) guarding the perimeter keep people out.

Admittedly, this is a large border, but this'll become a bit easier once they start resurrecting the nuclear dead, or intercepting foreign aid groups.

Foreign aid groups might actually make it easier to uphold the charade - "Oh, things are totally fine here, we're doing our best - they're even recovering!" or "Maybe send some more crew to the same port - we found plenty more needing help here.". Letting the outside world think they're helping while not actually successfully helping.

Worst case scenario - the bluff fails, and everyone knows their aid attempts fail spectacularly due to the vampires keeping them from succeeding, and if you succeed, well then the vampires can keep up the masquerade and effectively blindside everyone when they find out what actually is happening.

Other, non-nuclear conflicts break out in the rest of the world

The U.S. has an often discussed and criticized policy of being able to fund their army to be able to run a two theatre war. Even at the largest funding it had there, they're looking at 2 major conflicts and one limited conflict.

But the map you're presenting isn't that large a portion of the world; give the U.S. three major conflicts that aren't Europe. You've still got all of Asia, all of Africa, and all of South America to choose from, let alone a possible Civil War breakout making them have an additional local conflict.

Even if Europe is a strong contender for foreign aid, you're indicating that civilization is basically dead in Europe - perhaps at a glance, the U.S. looks at that, goes "Well, that's horrible; we have to intervene elsewhere and make sure nowhere else ends up like that.". Basically containment of conflicts to keep them from having to aid another region is what's keeping them from aiding Europe at the moment. Especially if they're aware of the whole Nazi Sasquatch Vampire situation.

For bonus points - have the non-nuclear conflicts break out nearby nuclear countries. That can give you a potential read on the global news as Europe is hoping those conflicts don't go the way theirs did.

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Frame challenge, there is no such thing as a "local-scale all out nuclear war"

If there is a nuclear war across Europe there is a nuclear war across the entire globe. There is no such thing as a "regional-scale" nuclear war. Especially not one that results in the total devastation of Europe. this is far far less believable than reconstruction taking decades. You can set aid whenever you want because there would be a decent chance it would not be aid but full recolonization or reconstruction.

You don't know how long the war lasted elsewhere. The war in Europe may be over but the war elsewhere may still be raging, relief is not going to happen in a noticeable scale until the war is over. It may even take a while for them to even realize there is anyone left to be in need of relief.

Also keep in mind relief after a nuclear strike is nothing like a natural disaster, It is far worse. Natural disaster don't destroy all means of entry and transport to a city, aa nuclear strike destroys everything ports, bridges, roads, there is no way to get supplies to people you have to build new docks or airports just to bring supplies in. worse with infrastructure gone there are few ways to assess need or destruction which also slows aid.

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  • $\begingroup$ I specifically said that it was localized to Europe. $\endgroup$
    – KEY_ABRADE
    Aug 17, 2021 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @KEY_ABRADE I updated to make that it is a frame challenge more clear. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 18, 2021 at 13:42

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