The present state of Europe. Refer to the key (top-left).

In the final days of Nazi Germany, the Allies were already planning its future, and that of Europe as a whole. Both sides were striving for a peaceful continent, but could not agree exactly. Should Germany be punished or rebuilt? Would Poland's democracy be that envisioned by the East or the West?

Imagine if, at some point in the conferences, the Allied leaders had decided upon a different route. Rather than deal with pacifying the threat of a powerful Germany, the Europe of the future would see it sliced down into its constituent territories, each of which would become an independent nation. In the Balkans, ethnic unrest could be solved through similar means - dividing the countries down to the county level, where cultural conflicts would be replaced by a long tapestry of small, stable blocks. Austria and Czechoslovakia would see similar fates. Rather than have the Soviet Union absorb the Baltic states, they too would be partitioned, so that those which wished to join or ally with the Soviet Union could do so, whereas those who wished to remain independent and capitalist could exist in a neutral fashion. All that remained was Poland. Here, tension between the Allies grew. Could they carry the conscience of destroying the nation which they themselves began war to defend? But the leaders were determined, and somewhat satisfied with the new political landscape. Poland, the final step in the remapping of Europe, was divided when its leaders were finally swayed that all the former Allies would act to maintain the integrity of any confederation they wished to form. As a token gesture of the 'sacrifice' of the Western Allies, French leaders were compelled to release the territories composing Alsace-Lorraine.

The effect of this drastic partitioning would have numerous immediate effects. Stalin need not have a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe; the ease of new micro-nations becoming communist would provide such a power base without any need for major action. Ethnic tensions could be easily defused as racial groups could clearly mark out where their lands started and ended. But most beneficially the former Allies now had a sea of buffer states between them, making any future armed land conflict long and hard - even though that meant little in the dawning Atomic Age.

Despite promises that the new nations could reform into larger states, the victors of World War Two began to grow comfortable with the new position, and worked clandestinely to stifle any change in the current situation. The forefront nations of Western Europe - Britain and France - managed to slow their decline by growing rich on the products from the sea of states to their East. When turmoil began to engulf states on the edge of the microstate sprawl, a UN delegation made up of local representatives would suggest that the nation dissolve for its own good - Greece in 1948, Finland in 1950, Sweden in 1951, Norway and Denmark in 1952, and Turkey in 1960. Some nations would also dissolve willingly, without external pressure, such as Switzerland in 1988 when the threads of centuries of neutrality were torn by the chances of wealth through federation with nearby states. At the time some pointed out that the loss of Switzerland meant that the Western salient into the microstate sprawl weakened its strategic standing against the Soviet Union - but by then these nations had lost any interest in World War Three, having grown decadent and obese on the wealth they siphoned from states incapable of resisting.

This is a world which knew no Cold War - only a decade separated the end of the Second World War to the start of the Third. With the US the only nation committed to supporting South Korea, the local situation grew progressively worse until tactical nuclear devices were used, immediately causing Soviet intervention. With most of the US presence in West Europe gone, the Pacific once more dissolved into a battleground. After a single decade of war, which left Japan and China wastelands, the warring powers scrambled for new territories, the United States funding any pro-US fascists and the USSR delivering communist guerrillas with anything up to and including tactical nuclear devices. Seeing a chance to benefit, the European empires considered selling off some of their less profitable colonies for massive sums of money from both the East and West. However, this only generated internal strife and soon vast territories - most of Africa below the Equator, Indonesia, and the Middle East - were turned into new battlegrounds. By the 1970s South America joined the global warzone, at which point internal instability in the US reached a climax. The nuclear carpet bombing of the Korean peninsula, a preventive measure for an invasion of Japan, led to mass revolts and riots across the states, a move that was hurriedly crushed by the military, which turned America into a shadow of its prior democratic self – the powers of Congress, Senate and President all faced heavy military regulation and the right of senior military officers to veto or force through legislation.

In 1974 the Soviet Union launched a vast campaign across the Aleutians and the Bering Strait and, after nuking Juneau and Anchorage, invaded Alaska. As intense trench warfare ensued throughout a bitter winter, the US changed the Second Amendment to feature the ‘duty’ to bear arms. In the following months huge swaths of the male American population were drafted into vast new armies. After repulsing the Soviet invasion these legions were sent to war zones across the planet, using sheer numbers to overwhelm opposition. With their deaths went nearly all American culture, replaced by a grim garrison state mentality which by 1978 had enforced that parents needed at least four children in order to receive support by the state; two or fewer children did not even afford the parents legal representation.

The situation in the Soviet Union was no better. Following the outbreak of war, the US had stopped grain shipments to the communist state, and for three years languished in famine. The early 1960s saw huge focus on maximising the efficiency of farms across the state and throughout its other communist allies, but chemical and biological weapons deployed by the US meant that these projects were severely hampered for several years. Only a limited allowance of competition and independence in the farming cooperatives could fully make up for the loss, but following a farmers’ revolt in 1969 these methods had to be stamped out.

As the war dragged on, the Soviet Union saw less change in comparison to that in the US. Surprisingly, it received many refugees from war zones, who decided that they would rather live in a society where they were guaranteed the minimum of life’s necessities than one which would offer them even less. But these refugees soon found themselves drafted into brigades dispatched to free their homelands, and were in the process annihilated by the bitter combat. In the 1970s the liberal usage of nuclear weaponry by the US devastated huge segments of communist land, gutting the population and enforcing similar birth-encouragement policies to those in the US, even though the communist nations had long held numerical advantage.

By the 1990s the Third World War was nothing other than a grim reality with no end in sight. Cities across the globe had been destroyed, with many nations nothing but utterly defunct entities. The true magnitude of the destruction became clear when it was reported that some former Soviet mechanised divisions had reverted to using cavalry, charging American-held oil sites in the Middle East and engaging them in hand-to-hand combat. Both sides appealed to the European nations for help, who decided to sell off weaponry patents at hugely inflated prices. The conflict continued, with both sides reduced to little more than warring shadows of their former ideals. Now, at last, the rot began to set in. Enticed by the microstate sprawl some of the westernmost territories of the Soviet Union tried to escape control, seeking freedom and economic independence unknown for decades. Though they were aware that they would likely fall under the influence of the West European nations, they were also aware that this could work to their advantage –the Soviet Union would not risk losing the weaponry contracts bought from Europe. After guaranteeing support, states across Belarus and the Ukraine began to secede. The Soviet Union tried to resist, but could not, as the move gathered more and more momentum. Some remained loyal to their former state, but most took their chances alone, or in small confederacies. To some in the US it seemed like they were slowly winning – but such hopes were miniscule, given that the communist nations still controlled much of the war zones, and the conflict was as bitter as ever.

Today, the Soviet Union is still slowly being eaten away at by the success stories of former territories on its western fringe joining the microstate sprawl. The United States and USSR remain locked in their unending struggle, but an apathetic Europe laughs at their troubles while its coffers overflow, spilling into the development of colonies in North Africa and Asia, ignoring the fierce proxy wars that flare up across the global battleground between the Pacific Treaty Alliance and the Socialist Alliance. Britain, France, Spain and Portugal are now the only major European powers left, bullying the disintegrating Benelux Group and most of central and northern Europe into feeding their wealth.

Some analysts say the world is at a tipping point.

Thoughts, comments and ideas welcome.