That is to say, until they both wiped each other off the face of the Earth. Yep, this is a bit of a grim one.
The main powers of this world are Italy, Russia, China and L’Estado Amarillo, a predominantly Latin American union that also has some territory in Africa and Oceania. None are democratic; it is a particularly repressive world with a paranoid political climate. To this world’s denizens, the majority of them would say that the question of “freedom versus security” has already been roundly and soundly answered: security, all the time.
This world’s US had somewhat more difficulty with its invasions of Mexico, succeeding in annexing Texas, but its subsequent conquests were much harder fought, and with much less gain. Meanwhile, New England managed to co-opt influence over British North America away from the British. Several new states and territories were added, and the rivalry between the US and New England deepened through territorial envy. The US never managed to establish a “Liberia” in Africa for former slaves, slavery and what to do about it becoming a hot button issue for decades as a result, and after much wrangling, international condemnation and howling from slaveowners, universal abolition was narrowly pushed through in the 1880s and slavery was replaced with a palpable sense of discontent on both sides of the racial divide.
Meanwhile, Napoleon was defeated over in Europe, and a German Confederation was established in place of the HRE as OTL, but this Germany fared quite a bit poorer, breaking and never really recovering from a simultaneous Russian and French invasion while Britain was busy in both Ireland and North America at the time. A loose Danubian Confederation managed to fill the void in Central Europe over time, but it was a far shakier construct than even OTL’s Austria-Hungary, especially given that, unlike A-H, the Confederation was intended to be permanent.
Africa was colonised by Europeans, but with more wiggle room for Italy to grow, with Germany largely out of the race (their first colony was set upon by a neighbouring French one, and the experience left a bad taste in their collective mouths), and the Dutch managed to get a permanent foothold in South Africa, with no subsequent need for a “Trek”. Spain, meanwhile, suffered even worse than OTL, being broken up after an alternate and earlier Spanish-American War.
Unfortunately, in 1899, right as the century clock was about to tick over, the greatest mind of the age codified what IOTL would be known as the Theory of Relativity. Little did he know that his discovery and subsequent musings on its applications would be responsible for untold terror and destruction across the globe.
In 1905, a “proto-World War” was fought between Britain, France, Italy, the Ottomans and Russia, triggered by some stupid thing in Africa. No one really won, but the resultant bitter peace led to a spurt of technological innovation; however, the only ones which secured government funding were the ones which had immediate military applications, and a great deal of moderately scientifically-minded government officials took the aforementioned scientist seriously when he made claims that atoms had the power to destroy entire armies. Without the massive horrors of a full-scale industrial war to rock them to their core, and with tanks and planes only just beginning to be put into use, no one considered the full gravity of the idea and initiated small-scale experiments developing functional “Domino Bombs”, named after the item that said scientist used to demonstrate the idea of atomic fission.
Early D-Bombs debuted to decent effect, and the idea of scaling up caught on. World powers began the process of developing their own increasingly powerful and numerous bombs, and geared up for a second, more definitive war. Meanwhile, a new political ideology began spreading in South America known as Asignaciónism, or, more commonly in English, Allocationism (basically Communist economics mixed with fairly regressive social policies). Born in Bolivia following their victory over Brazil in a recent conflict, it quickly spread throughout Latin America and even into Africa, where it gained a foothold in a number of post-colonial states including the Kongo and Dahomey.
After several decades, during which the idea of a second war to resolve the issues of the first might not even happen, the peace came crashing down in 1940 with the crumbing of the Danube Confederation at the hands of Republican and Allocationist rebels. All the powers desperately jockeyed to secure the territories for themselves, and everything went to hell as shots were fired. However, unlike WWII IOTL, which was ended with the use of nuclear weapons, this *World War opened with them already in most nation’s arsenals.
However, it didn’t all go to hell right from the get go. Most powers, at this point were driven by the desire for new territory they claimed was rightfully theirs, and while they viewed D-Bombs as still basically a bomb, only bigger, they had also grown aware of residual effects of their use, and attempted to only using them sparingly.
This all changed when New England, correctly believing that they were on the verge of losing their concurrent war with the US, launched a nuclear assault on the US, destroying 3 US cities and demanding that the US back off. The US, perhaps not surprisingly, did not back off, and retaliated, the incident escalating into a progressive game of tit-for-tat as more bombs flew and more cities were annihilated. People fled, panic and riots filled the streets, transport lines broke down and the capitals of both nations were destroyed. Both nations devolved into chaos as people starved (the Malthusian limit was more of a reality ITTL, with a less extensive Green Revolution and an earlier Baby Boom) and the United States and New England were no more. People would later come to call it “Armageddon in miniature”.
Conversely, back in Europe, things ended on a less destructive, though still not particularly pleasant, note. Britain was nuked twice, losing both Southampton and Colchester, Italy lost Milan and Russia lost Minsk. The Ottomans fell to Allocationist rebellion, which splintered fairly quickly after toppling the government. France suffered the worst, losing all of Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Tours and Nantes to D-Bombs, which triggered actions not unlike those of the American populaces, as refugees fleeing abroad out of fear that their city would be next.
As the remaining nations took stock of what had transpired and tried to come up with a viable method of restoring peace, Britain was hit by a third, more compact nuclear strike. The differences were that this one was much smaller, a “dirty bomb” if you will, and, more horrifyingly, it went off in the heart of London, near the Houses of Parliament.
Enraged, the remaining British government scrambled for someone to blame, only to find it wasn’t from any mainland nation; it had come from a rogue Irish nationalist organisation, using nuclear technology sourced from the French. This triggered a severely self-destructive pattern by the British, as a dictatorship was set up with the intent to purge problematic elements from society. Anyone deemed “subversive” was detained, sentenced and executed therewith, and there were a lot of them on the new government’s list. Isolation set in, and the British dictatorship hunkered down and began pointing nukes at anyone who looked at them funny.
In the end, Italy and Russia reaped most of the spoils of the last *World War, Italy gaining hegemony over most of Western Europe and North Africa while Russia took over Eastern Europe and the Balkans, with assistance from its allies. Over the next decade, however, multiple incidents of nuclear terrorism occurred, and a paranoid citizenry demanded action, and they got in what came to be known as “the British model”: sweeping surveillance, a crackdown of perceived dissenters and massive xenophobia put forth by the government. Democratic ideals dried up in the name of sleeping soundly.
Today, in 2016, some semblance of normality is returning. Britain is starting to emerge from its shell, and the Czar and King of Russia and Italy, respectively, have announced an initiative to jointly rebuild some of the cities lost throughout Europe as a result of nuclear attacks in a hitherto unheard of gesture of goodwill and cooperation. Back in North America, large-ish states are beginning to form out of the ashes of the former rivals, with European and Mexican assistance. However, freedom of speech and such are still but twinkles in the new global generation’s eye.
Meanwhile, South America, sans the northernmost part, is under majority rule by L’Estado Amarillo, or “The Yellow State”, yellow being the colour that came to symbolise Allocationism the world over. Also extending into West and Central Africa, as well as North *Australia, L’Estado Amarillo espouses the abolition of national borders and the creation of a single unified humanity, with one language and everything (their weird-ass version of Esperanto has yet to catch on outside of official documents). The mainland, Bolivia-centred core of LED is largely content; as long as the military gets their food, they’re safe in their positions and just have to occasionally deal with irritating progressives, but they’re not adverse to supplying their more ardent overseas followers with the tools of the trade to make things difficult for nations outside LED.
However, the majority of the rest of the world doesn’t consider them their top problem. That dubious honour goes to China.
China had a much better run than OTL, managing to be prodded out of complacency by Europeans early enough to advance and avoid conquest by either them or by Japan. Unfortunately, this also came with an even bigger superiority complex on the part of the Chinese, which translated into a severe state of paranoia regarding the outside world and the populace being increasingly convinced the world was trying to subvert them. And then they got their hands on nuclear technology. Hilarity has not ensued.
The Chinese regime has since proved incredibly cavalier regarding the use of D-Bombs, using them not only against neighbouring nations (Japan has been nuked 4 times in the last decade alone), but also against its own people, including protesters against military rule and Allocationist rebellions. The rest of the world is outraged, naturally, but they are hesitant to do anything about it, for several reasons. First, they don’t know how many D-Bombs the Chinese have, and the wounds of the last *World War are still fairly fresh (radiation doesn’t go away overnight). Secondly, the Chinese have yet to actually go after anything the rest of the West consider getting worked up about; after all, what does it really matter to them in the grand scheme of things if a few tens of thousand Thais go up in smoke? And finally, what would they actually do to stop the Chinese from doing what they are doing?
And things aren’t getting any better, as Tibetan nationalists have recently gotten their hands on D-Bombs supplied by the rogue North Indian state of Pradesh. An entire coastal city of China has just been irradiated, and the Chinese government is pretty pissed. At the moment, the rest of the world is just hoping one of their own citizens doesn’t do something stupid and provoke them, because that would not end well for anyone...