I have a timeline when North America is devastated by a natural disaster in 1980: USA, Canada & Mexico are with only 5% of their people and even less of their infrastructure, thus barely functioning as countries.

Would the eastern bloc still collapse in 1989 in this timeline or would it linger longer?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ it might fall faster since that would collapse global markets. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 27, 2016 at 18:50
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @John I think you'd get the opposite: the Soviet Union collapsed because it couldn't match the U.S economically, and trying to keep up (militarily and economically) bankrupted it. Remove the U.S, and suddenly a whole lot of minor nations across the globe will have to turn to the Soviet Union by default precisely because of the global collapse that would ensue; read my answer for more details. Without the U.S, the Soviet Union has no competition and is free to turn some money from military to economic matters, likely prolonging its lifespan and possibly even allowing for economic improvement. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Nov 27, 2016 at 18:57
  • 21
    $\begingroup$ The soviet spend money on the military because the decided to let a lamarckist run their agriculture causing huge crop losses so they had a huge rebellion in their food producing regions. the soviets main import was food becasue they could not produce enough to feed themselves. and three of the world's largest food producing and exporting nations just disappeared, the price of food would have skyrocketed. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 27, 2016 at 21:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @John Yeah, unfortunately millions perished due to dogma of socialist science. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2016 at 22:47
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Your scenario is similar to the Disappearance series by John Birmingham, only 23 years earlier. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2016 at 23:14

6 Answers 6


USSR relied heavily on on exporting raw commodities to pay for food imports, since their agriculture couldn't provide for the growing urban population due to idiocy of central planning, lack of farmer motivation and experiments with Lysenkoism. Without USA there would be less demand for their exports and less supply for their imports. They would be in big trouble much earlier, so I doubt they would survive till 1989.

Below is the explanation from their Ex Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar in his Story of Grain & Oil

There were three options–or a combination of three options–available to the Soviet leadership.

First, dissolve the Eastern European empire and effectively stop barter trade in oil and gas with the Socialist bloc countries, and start charging hard currency for the hydrocarbons. This choice, however, involved convincing the Soviet leadership in 1985 to negate completely the results of World War II. In reality, the leader who proposed this idea at the CPSU Central Committee meeting at that time risked losing his position as general secretary.

Second, drastically reduce Soviet food imports by $20 billion, the amount the Soviet Union lost when oil prices collapsed. But in practical terms, this option meant the introduction of food rationing at rates similar to those used during World War II. The Soviet leadership understood the consequences: the Soviet system would not survive for even one month. This idea was never seriously discussed.

Third, implement radical cuts in the military-industrial complex. With this option, however, the Soviet leadership risked serious conflict with regional and industrial elites, since a large number of Soviet cities depended solely on the military-industrial complex. This choice was also never seriously considered.

Soviet agriculture is a moral lesson that shows what kind of damage happens when science becomes politicized. Check the sad stories of The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin's Persecution of One of the Greatest Scientists of the Twentieth Century and about The men who starved to death to save the world's seeds

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Except, with the collapse the north american portion of NATO, conquest to food-growing areas becomes feasible, and rationing during wartime is easy to justify... $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Nov 28, 2016 at 14:12
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @Yakk USSR already had all the land they need, it's the socialist system that prevented them to make good use of it. See npr.org/sections/money/2012/01/20/145360447/… how Chinese managed to produce 5 times the harvest when allowed private property. Or how productive were the little plots left in private hand in former Socialist countries. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2016 at 15:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ While their economy certainly would have crashed, so would everyone else's. That in turn would have dramatically lowered the expectations of the citizens, which in turn would probably have forestalled the type of revolution that occurred in 1986. A bad economy generally only hurts a government if everyone outside of it appears to be doing well. Disasters and crises that effect everyone actually tend to strengthen support for strong central governments. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2016 at 16:50

This study has a list of estimated GDPs in 1980.

For Western Europe, GDP is 4849 billion (adjusted 1990 dollars); for 'European offshoots' which is mostly US and Canada, but also Australia, 4878 billion. For Eastern Europe + Soviet Union that number is 675 + 1709 = 2384 billion. The rest of the world combines to 7935 billion.

The result is that the various states of Western Europe still have about twice the economic production of the Warsaw Pact. The difference is now that the Western nations no longer have more economic production than the rest of the world combined.

Given that Western Europe is now the sole holder of mantle of Western democracy, and is still in a powerful, though no longer dominant position vis-a-vis the Warsaw pact, this would seem to cause a renewed surge of competition between East and West.

Consider also who was in charge in Western Europe at the time. Helmut Kohl became chancellor of West Germany in 1982 and Francois Mitterand in France in 1981. Both were viewed as the architects of the European Union, and both served for over a decade; Mitterand until 1995, Kohl until 1998. England on the other hand had Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1990. It is remarkable that this period coincided with over a decade of stable leadership from the three biggest Western European countries.

With Kohl and Mitterand dedicated to European unification, Thatcher going the opposite way and being much more assertive in general world affairs (Libya, Argentina/Falklands, tripling Britain's nuclear arsenal), Europe in general was well poised to become an assertive world leader in 1980 if the US was erased.

In conclusion, I think that the presence of a valid rival who was more economically on par with the Soviet Union would have given the Warsaw pact and Soviet Bloc around the world more reason to be. Therefore, it would have lasted longer as part of a continued Cold war stalemate.


Define "collapse".

What you describe would be disaster on the global scale and would devastate the economies of the rest of the world. The eastern bloc would probably be less affected that the "free world", but this would be balanced by their economy being more fragile, which in turn would be balanced by their economy being more in the control of the government...

My prediction of what would happen is that everyone would go to damage control mode and economies would globally move towards centrally planned solutions until situation stabilizes. This would be a net win for the eastern bloc elites, they would have a temporary justification for their system and for a temporary rationing of any necessary strictness. This would probably delay the collapse by some unknowable time.

The reason the collapse was so fast was because the people had something better to move to. Under a global economic meltdown caused by the removal of the US, there would be no real immediate benefit from breaking the eastern bloc and even with the nothing else changing, the process would be slower. Which would probably be a good thing, the fast process that actually happened had some issues that might be avoided with less pressure to move fast.

Since the destruction of the US and a global economic meltdown would also end the cold war for the duration without anyone having to lose face, this would also open the window for the Soviet leadership to go for reform lot more aggressively than was possible in actual history. Almost any reform could be justified as emergency response to the situation and implemented by force if necessary. People would also be more motivated to work together. Even cooperation across the iron curtain would now be possible. It is debatable whether the soviet leadership would have the ability to pursue this possibility though, but you can even build a scenario where the eastern bloc survives in reformed form.

Alternate outcome is the eastern bloc using the military window instead. Loss of the US would devastate the west militarily and turn the power of balance in the favor of the Soviets. The soviet leadership might decide to use the opening and invade the western europe. This would give them the resources and strategic position to prop up their power even without successful reform.

And of course, integrating the western Europe would open its own window for reforming the system. Just treat the Europeans softly, and instead of forcing all the ineffciencies of the soviet system of them, use them as model for reforms in the east.

So maybe the answer would be, possibly not, if the soviet leadership responds decisively and effciently. Otherwise, the process would be slower. Unless the soviets mess up their response, in which case it would be faster... (Not very useful answer, is it?)


If North America had 95% of its population wiped out, that would likely destroy anything resembling a modern nation in the area: try to imagine the U.S holding together with about 15 million people in the middle of the Cold War (hint: it probably won't). That sort of disaster is going to destroy the world's economy, since the U.S was fueling a lot of economic growth (and on its own represented something like a quarter of the total global economy).

You've just left the Soviet Union as the only major power on the map, which essentially by default means it's going to last longer due to the lack of competition, the reduced need for military spending, etc. Without the U.S presenting a counter-example, the Soviet Union's economic failings are much more likely to remain hidden or at least non-catastrophic, its political influence will be significantly greater with the loss of its great counterbalance, and the sudden spike in dependence on its products is going to fuel its growth. It's free to turn a lot of military spending towards the economy instead, since it's no longer trying to match the U.S military juggernaut.

I'd suggest rethinking your scenario, however: what kind of disaster could wipe out 95% of North America's population and leave it with less than 5% of its infrastructure without having catastrophic physical (not merely economic and political) effects on the rest of the world? Biological weapons wouldn't shatter the infrastructure unless they eat steel and flesh alike, and would most certainly be spread around the rest of the world. An asteroid impact on the necessary scale would cause a years-long winter as dust blocked out much of the sunlight, with ruinous consequences on food supplies globally. Nuclear catastrophe continent-wide (whether by reactor meltdowns or nuclear weaponry detonations) would have a similar effect, with the added problem that a lot of that dust would be radioactive: look up the Chernobyl disaster and how far radioactive materials were dispersed by it, then multiply that by hundreds or thousands.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Western Europe would still be a powerful counter-example, indeed more powerful since it has more history in common with the USSR than the US which is exceptional in more respects. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 28, 2016 at 2:49
  • $\begingroup$ @ohwilleke I was talking about the U.S in light of the fact that it and the USSR were the two superpowers of the Cold War. Europe was in tatters for quite some time after WWII, and to put it bluntly the U.S had the real political and economic power at that point: it funded most of western Europe's reconstruction under the Marshall Plan, if I recall my history correctly. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Nov 28, 2016 at 6:39
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The Marshall Plan was offered to the USSR too, which turned it down. Interesting potential for an alternative history there. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 28, 2016 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ There could be the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, but this would create a big cloud of ash as well. $\endgroup$
    – Hawker65
    Mar 19, 2018 at 13:33

The main issue in regards to any country's stability isn't economic, but political. It frankly doesn't matter how many people starve or rot in poverty or are piled into mass graves. The idea that the economy is the be all and end all is a result of liberal thinking; where individuals surrounded by capitalism can only view history through the lens of economic matters. The USSR endured serious hardship and famine under Stalin; far worse than anything that came later, but it didn't fall apart because everyone feared stepping out of line.

By 1980 the USSR was already suffering from economic and political stagnation. If you want the USSR to endure longer in any given alternative history you need to undo De-Stalinisation and have Stalin succeeded by leaders who were just as brutal.

The USSR fell apart because it allowed dissent, culminating in the coup de grace of Glasnost. When Gorbachev was asked what was the difference between Glasnost and Socialism with a Human Face, he said "Nineteen years". Back then orthodox communists feared a free press would destroy the USSR, so they put down Czechoslovakia's progressive reforms with tanks. The fate of the USSR is better understood with a grasp of Stalinism and the Prague Spring, as well as a cross examination of the fates of different communist regimes. This is how history is written: blood and terror.

Also worth noting that even if the USA disappears, even if the rest of Europe minus West Germany disappears... the issue is not that West Germany exists and does better for its people, but that the people of the USSR can freely talk about it without fear of being snatched from their beds in the night.


Longer, because...

There is no military pressure from the US and Reagan would not lead the SU in to ruining arms race...

US would not excerpt extra pressure in Afghanistan...

Gorbachev would (presumably) not be selected to politburo without impression within politburo, that serious reforms were needed...


Whole Eastern Block economy was in stagnation from early '70s...

British and French nuclear forces would be enough to keep Soviets in check... And presumably a few US subs survived the devastation and joined the UK...

If the US ceased to exist, then demand for oil would go down, which actually would not be a good news for oil exports dependent SU...

The whole event would not influence start of Solidarity in Poland. Sure, there may be a higher pressure and capability to squash all dissidents afterwards, but any scenario it would be a source of serious instability from within..

Conclusion: I'd give them a few extra years, maybe even ten. The economy was anyway on collapse course. And only way to save communism was going the Chinese way, but the chance of adopting such reforms was low. Nerveless, the collapse could go a different way.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's doubtful whether Solidarnoz could have grown to more than a minor, easily suppressed, nuisance without the financial and material support they got from the USA, directly and indirectly. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Nov 28, 2016 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting Honestly, the impact of those money barely mattered. The international event that set the fire was... election and visit in Poland pope John Paul II in 1979. During it Polish masses had a chance to discover how huge was support for him, in country where official ideology was atheistic. US was helpful to the extend of financing Radio Free Europe and keeping a poorly veiled threats of serious economic sanctions in case of serious atrocities. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Nov 28, 2016 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ I've read accounts that claim otherwise. And not just the money, but more important the equipment being smuggled in. Photocopiers, printing presses, things like that, funded by the CIA and brought in in part by the Catholic church. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Nov 28, 2016 at 14:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .