So, if you are thinking this is just another random scenario, it is not. It is a sequel to my previous question on whether the Soviets and other Warsaw Pact forces, henceforth referred to as PACT forces, could reach the Rhine River or not (at least until NATO decides to nuke them and the nuclear genie gets out of the bottle, aka: the war devolves into a nuclear exchange).

So, first off I am going to link the original scenario below:

1973: Al-Qaiyama

So, to summarise. around the 26th of October of 1973, World War III begins following the breakdown of the ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur War in our timeline (which almost happened and caused a crisis that almost plunged the world into exactly what I am about to describe). As a result, World War III begins. The details of the conventional war are in the link provided.

Fast forward to the 19th of November of 1973, and PACT forces have effectively reached the Rhine. In desperation, NATO launches 50 tactical nuclear weapons on the advancing Warsaw Pact forces at around 9:15 AM EST (1:15 PM UTC). PACT forces retaliate with 80 of them just minutes later and pushes as far as Saarbrücken before finally being nuked again by 100 NATO tactical nuclear weapons. NATO counterattacks and pushes the Soviets back towards the Rhine, where the Soviets destroy any remaining crossings and a brutal stalemate ensues over the course of a day across a nuclear wasteland, and no end in sight for tactical nuclear detonations.

At around 10:10 AM EST the next morning, sirens across North America and Europe go off, while seven minutes later, NATO launches a first strike on the Warsaw Pact. The next minute, the USSR retaliates, with ICBMs, strategic bombers and submarines equipped with SLBMs begin to head towards their targets. Within 15 minutes ICBMs reach their targets in Europe, while 30 minutes after the order to launch is given, said ICBMs reach targets in North America, and the rest of the USSR.

Most of these are concentrated on key military targets, with the occasional population centre being targeted. The remainder would be targeted by strategic bombers and SLBMs over the next two hours and fourty five minutes, the former of which manage to break through the other's air interceptors and AA defences along the Bering Strait in the final battle of the war. By the end of the second hour, most strategic bombers have destroyed their targets, while SLBMs launch towards any remaining targets that survived the initial ICBM launches and strategic bomber onslaught.

The third hour ends and the two alliances launch their remaining warheads, when around 1:57 PM EST (5:57 PM UTC), the last warhead detonates and the dust finally clears. A total of 6,500 strategic nuclear weapons and 600 tactical nuclear warheads are estimated to have had been detonated, while 400 million lives were lost (another retcon from my initial 900 million estimate, then subsequent retcon to 459 million). North America, Europe, Central Asia, Israel, parts of Siberia, Korea and Japan are now nuclear rubble as a result.

So, assuming the US and the Soviet Union survive, what exactly did they have in mind when it came to reconstruction (assuming they also survived to 1974, that is)?

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    $\begingroup$ It's only going to take a month before billions are dead because there is no support for those injured and those without supplies. I'm sure there were plans to rebuild but the expected successfulness of the plans were a real reason why MAD was so successful itself. There will be no NATO or PACT left after the nukes fall and they both knew it. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Aug 23 '17 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @A.C.A.C.? So, let me guess: if Nixon, whatever is left of Congress or some of the US military remnant had established a provisional government shortly after the initial exchange, it would either fall apart in a matter of months or simply fail to restore order to the entirety of the US. Correct? Just as an example. $\endgroup$ – Future Historian Aug 23 '17 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much that, they can maybe hold power locally and help the survivors within a couple sq miles but there really would just not be a way for food and water to get to everyone who needs it. The country just wouldn't run like it used to with everyone trying to get even basic resources to stay alive. Also, any country that doesn't get bombed will have a lot more power globally and the NATO/Soviet nations would all be pretty much all wastelands. I expect massive amount of refugees fleeing to any countries that were not bombed. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Aug 23 '17 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @A.C.A.C.? About the Southern Hemisphere, would that not mean that because everything north of the equator is nuclear rubble, that most of the Southern Hemisphere would have collapsed into chaos and anarchy by the start of 1974 in this scenario (with some exceptions)? $\endgroup$ – Future Historian Aug 23 '17 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ Places like Africa, Australia, Central/South America, Northern Canada and ect probably won't get nuked and w/e government they have there would likely be intact. It wouldn't change much for them in the short run. It's hard to say how bad the nuclear winter would be in such a scenario but what happens globally would depend on that. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Aug 23 '17 at 18:58

The short answer is "possibly, but I don't know".

While both sides had extensive and detailed plans of dealing with immediate aftermath of nuclear conflict, I am not aware of any longer term rebuilding plans. Short term plans always included either staying in shelter or moving away from contaminated areas while trying to "hot-wire" the remaining infrastructure.

I believe that outcome of a nuclear scenario is too dicey to make any specific plans. You may want to rebuild a certain power station or the whole city - and you can do it, if the damage is not too heavy and radioactive contamination is minimal. But if it's not the case, then that particular plan is off. So that's why, I think, most plans stopped at regrouping in safe areas - new assessment of situation will be necessary to make any further plans.

For USSR, at least, it was not unthinkable to rebuild from the ashes - WWII literally destroyed western part of it.

As far as social and political rebuilding go - it was assumed that the army would remain strong enough to provide control over territory and provide necessary level of order.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 This question (like your previous one) is too subjective for a definite answer. And no plan survives contact with the enemy. I would only add that the communist countries would handle this scenario of financial global meltdown way better than the capitalistic ones. This is kind of a dreadnought event: since all of the countries of the world would bankrupt, the poorer ones would draw a score against the (former) richer ones. If both the USSR and the USA survived, their GDP twenty years after WWIII would be much more similar than 2:1 ratio it was before. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Aug 24 '17 at 7:41

So just some historical footnotes with regard to this: First, Continuity of Government (COG) on the United States side was believed to be compromised by a spy in the FBI at this point in our history, so any precautions to protect vital government officials would not function.

Second, I'm concerned about your order of battle (though the delayed retaliation from the Soviet's would be due to the fuel concerns. Soviet Missals historically would have taken longer to fuel up, but given a slow progression to war, it would have probably been fueled. Also, the Soviets always had a policy of Second Strike Only (i.e. We will not use nukes first) where as the U.S. did have an unstated point of First Strike (never outlined on policy, but up to the option of POTUS). The Germany "Fulda Gap" was always a ruse on the Soviet's Part which the United States bought hook line and sinker. The United States at this time was currently revising policy of it's first strike. Again, it was never a labeled event, but the general "We're losing" was a good point. The idea of tactical nukes was very recent (the 80s) and even then, the lead time of a first strike meant that it was better for a First Strike opponent to launch all nukes upon the decision to launch one (during the entirety of the cold war, it was thought that only 3% of all nukes would reach their intended targets, so getting everything out of the ground in the mother of all salvos was the best strategy... not limited detonation on troops and military targets, because that gave the enemy time to get their nukes off the ground. In the 1970s, with limited forward operating areas, a second strike policy, and the slow speed of fueling, the United States had the clear edge over Soviets in a first strike.). Given the timely nature of fueling rockets by the Soviets for a counter attack, the first indication that this process was starting would be enough to call in an all out nuclear strike from NATO forces... lest those missals get off the ground.

Another wonderful historical fact is that the Soviet Government did not tell the populace about radiation and its harmful effects, so it's likely at local levels, the rebuild plan would have been significantly hampered. Since most of the Soviet's population was in the Western part of the country, it's likely that Asiatic Russia would have seen little of the war, though this could change due to the fact that all Soviet Nukes were mobile (due to the fueling) and not siloed like in the states, which had a good chunk of nukes in the breadbasket... in the event Soviet Union could launch a Second Strike, a good deal of the American Bread Basket would have been highly irradiated. When the US did nuke Japan, Tokyo was deliberately not named as a candidate city because they needed people to negotiate a surrender with. This may preserve the capitols, but it's likely not.

In short, the United States would likely have been better prepaired for the aftermath, but famine would be an immediate scare for the survivors and hospitals would be overwhelmed... a single high atmosphere detonation would cause an EMP that would fry all electronics in the Continental United States, so power infrastructure would be need to be rebuilt. In the Soviet Union, the problem is that the Government would have probably not briefed the local leadership on what to do in the event they survive. Radiation poisoning would probably be much more rampart among the survivors. Foreign Aid would probably be more readily given to the United States (China had long had a bitter falling out with the Soviets... during this time period, they may have even launched on the Soviets for good measure, leaving the Soviet Union with little in the way of actual allies who could give back.).

For some good documentaries/fiction that generally got a good portrayal of what you want, check out "The Day After" which focuses more on the survival of the initial strike than the build up (to hit the point home that it would be the case in any direct nuclear war, who started firing the nukes was never explained... the viewer can blame the US and USSR equally), "Gerico" (this was co-ordianted domestic Nuclear Terrorism in the the 00s but still showed several hardships the town would face if major cities were wiped off of the map). I've heard good things about "Threads" (but never saw it) which is the UK version of "The Day After" and much much darker... and even "The Day After" admitted it was toning down the realistic consequences because there are somethings you can't show on TV.

TVTropes.org has a good description of what would happen if someone who really... really... really hated Mickey Mouse detonated a low yield Nuclear device at the Walt Disney Studios in L.A. "War Games" is actually considered "scary accurate" for it's depiction of build up to Nuclear War (especially given that there are more than a few incidents that almost sparked a nuclear war that read scary close... including an incident in the Soviet Union in the same year the movie was released). "Deuscthland 83" is a good depiction of the fears from both side of the Iron Curtain and depicts the reasons behind the real life Able Archer '83 scare from the Soviet's perspective (it's subtitled from it's original German language release on Hulu, but don't let that stop you... the 80s soundtrack is awesome!).

Edit: To clarify some comment confusion. Russian military terminology is extremely nuanced and well defined, so that understanding the definition of the terms in question means exactly that thing and is not interchangable for political reasons (in the United States, First Strike and Pre-Emptive strike are kinda the same thing. In Russian military, they do have specific meanings and are not interchangable).

With that in mind, a second strike is what it is: They Launched Nukes, we got to fire back before we have none.

A first Strike is "We launched nukes as an opening action to war.

A Pre-Emptive Strike is "We're launching first because it's pretty obvious they're going to launch anyway if we don't do something".

A Pre-Emptive Strike was accepted as a second strike because the gun was drawn and cocked first by the enemy... we just fired quicker than them.

The silliness of this idea was the subject of the a popular Russian joke in which, having watched two other foreign-nationals die at the hands of a cannibal chief without intervention, the Russian tricks the chief into picking up a gun and promptly killed the chief because now the Russian couldn't be seen as the aggressor.

To the Soviet's mind, of the two great superpowers, only one actually used Nuclear weapons in actual combat... not only was leadership terrified that the U.S. would use nukes first, but they could point to a historical moral high ground. For it's entire history as a Nuclear Power, the Soviet Union only had them as a means of self-defense.

Of course, in order to use Nukes as self-defense, you had to show your enemies that you're just crazy enough to kill everyone on the planet if provoked, so you had to show that there would be a line in the sand where you would invoke Mutually Assured Destruction. SF-Debris, in his review of "The Day After" explains this pretty well... and Yes Prime Minister shows the consequences of politics under these pressures in what it called "Salami Tactics" (you wouldn't push the button on small scale pushes... it was kind of like two children in a car playing the most dangerous version of "I'm not Touching You" ever.). "Deustchland 83" even shows how, in an effort to suck up to the Soviets, the East Germans made it look like the United States was more willing to strike first than they actually were... and that misunderstanding was enough to lead to the very real Able Archer '83 panic that the Soviet Leadership went through.

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    $\begingroup$ "the Soviets always had a policy of Second Strike Only (i.e. We will not use nukes first)" Do you have a citation for that? I've seen claims quite to the contrary, that the USSR's plans for a large war at least in Europe didn't ever involve traditional weapons -- plans were to use nuclear weapons immediately. These two obviously can't both be right, and a citation or two could certainly clear up the matter. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 24 '17 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Let me dig that up... I've read alot about the subject. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Aug 24 '17 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ While the Soviets stated "Second strike only", documents recovered from the former GDR and other Warsaw pact nations after the "Fall of the Wall" indicate the Soviet war plan was to advance under a "fire corridor" of nuclear and chemical weapons. This is essentially tactical level doctrine scaled up to armies, advancing regiments to divisional sized units under a massive artillery barrage ("Fire corridor") was a well known part of Soviet operational art. This also reverses the order of strategic strikes, although in the end, there would still be a desolate wasteland. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Aug 24 '17 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling: Probably read it in a source derived from the above. Did add some additions to explain why the Soviets were capable of having pre-emptive strike and second strike only as compatible doctrine. Basically, Russian military is very very specific in terminology. First Strike to them was a totally unprovoked attack. A Pre-emptive Strike was not unprovoked, therefor was a Second Strike. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Aug 24 '17 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ To be clear, the Fulda Gap was never really a priority for the Soviets in this tumeline; the bulk of the main force was in the North German Plain, whereas the other fronts (the Fulda Gap and Czechoslovakian-German Border) were meant as a way to alleviate pressure from the main advance and keep up the ruse. So by the time NATO realised the bulk of the main force was in the North German Plain, it was too late. $\endgroup$ – Future Historian Aug 24 '17 at 20:05

90%+ of the entire world population is wiped off.

Infrastructure is wiped off.

Travelling for more than 20 km/day is a challenge.

Though some high level personalities might have survived, when they come out of the shelter they will find wasteland and no command chain to support their supposed power.

Both USA and USSR (along with all other states) will collapse into a miriad of micro nations, fighting each other for accessing resources and local power.

Soon the memory of the history will fade into legends. Probably some smart ruler will create a sort of monastic order, to preserve along the centuries the history and the techniques, waiting for the dark age to finish and lead the nation to its bright future again.

  • $\begingroup$ So, not even Brazil, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or Argentina could survive AT THE VERY LEAST? Remember: no targets to hit south of the equator, so you are going to be (mostly) fine. At least in terms of nuclear fallout and climate. Then again.....RIP Northern Hemisphere, so whatever nations survived initially may collapse into chaos. So, good point. $\endgroup$ – Future Historian Aug 23 '17 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ @FutureHistorian in this movie even Australia was not safe. At least that was their point of view back then. $\endgroup$ – Antoine Hejlík Aug 24 '17 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @AntoineHejlík I don't think it happened until the 80s, but New Zealand has been nuclear free for sometime in the hopes of preventing this. They won't even let in U.S. Nuclear Carriers... That said, it's still part of the ANSUS treaty with Aussie and the US. Brazil and Argentina might be better off, but would be closer to the United States. South Africa was in the midst of sanctions during the 70s and was cut off from the world write large... And may have been helping Isreal with their "non-existent" nuclear program which everyone knows about. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Aug 24 '17 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @hszmv it was not about where the weapons are, but about the fact that athmosphere will soon or later deliver radiation cloud even to the untouched countries. $\endgroup$ – Antoine Hejlík Aug 25 '17 at 9:44

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