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Puppet State

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Russian Ambassador: And bring me some cigars, please. Havana cigars.
American General: Try one of these Jamaican cigars, Ambassador, they’re pretty good.
Russian Ambassador: Thank you, no. I do not support the work of imperialist stooges.
American General: Oh, only Commie stooges, huh?

A state under the effective control of another state. Technically independent and in charge of its own affairs, but in reality if it tries anything without the say-so of the government of the nation in charge of it, it's liable to end up occupied (again). An old term for this is Satrapies. Calling something a vassal state, client state or satellite state is another.


The nation trying to break away and regain true independence may be a plot point. Normally part of The Empire (especially if it's a Hegemonic Empire) or The Federation. The Good Kingdom is usually a stand-alone thing. When our whole planet ends up this way, it's Vichy Earth.

This isn't always entirely one-sided; one reason for a state becoming a puppet state may have been in exchange for the larger state watching its back in case of war. Whether or not the puppet (or the empire) is happy with this state of affairs is another matter.

If the state is nominally democratic or republican and holds elections, and those are controlled by the parent state, see Corrupt Politician. Compare Voluntary Vassal, Les Collaborateurs, and The Quisling.



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     Anime and Manga  
  • Most countries in One Piece are part of a global alliance known as the World Government. There are very harsh penalties for a country's refusal to join, and the ones that do are subject to rules that give the officials almost totally free rein to do as they please.
    • Because there are so many countries so spread out, the World Government and the Marines can't possibly watch every single place at every moment, so it's not unheard of for a country to just do things covertly or secretly own contraband.
  • The Zeon home colonies (taking the name "the Republic of Zeon") at Lagrange Point 2 become one after the original Mobile Suit Gundam, necessitating The Remnant move to the Asteroid Belt (and, if you take some of the dodgier F91 spinoffs as canon, Mars). Eventually they give up the pretense and officially fold back into the Earth Federation around UC100.

    Fan Works 
  • Code Prime: The Autobots think Britannia is one to the Decepticons. The truth is slightly more complex — Megatron did help get Charles and V.V. into power, but Charles clearly has ambitions of his own. When Megatron realizes that Charles is plotting against him (as an extension of his Ragnarok plan), he has the empire destroyed and takes control of its territories directly.
  • Chasing Dragons: While Mantarys is allowed to keep its own government after being brought to heel by Volantis, a Volantene military force stays present to make sure they follow Volantis' lead.

  • In the Vietnam War documentary In the Year of the Pig, Senator Wayne Morse says that the U.S. used its power and influence to create one of these in Vietnam by not allowing elections to be held in accordance with the Geneva Accords, whereas then-House Minority Leader Gerald Ford's argues that refusing to allow elections to be held in Vietnam in 1956 was the only proper course of action because ones in communist-controlled North Vietnam would not have been free.
  • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Klingon Ham-bassador Kamarag accuses Vulcan of being this.
    "Vulcans are well-known as the intellectual PUPPETS of this FEDERATION!"

  • In Tribesmen of Gor most of the desert tribes are vassals of either the Aretai or Kavar tribe. So when outsiders stir up trouble between those two tribes the entire desert is preparing for war with each other.
  • In Flora Segunda, the main characters' country, Califa, is a vassal state of the Huitzil empire, because it was pretty much that or be conquered entirely. Many people are still less than happy about it, though.
  • In A Dark Winter by Dave Luckett, the protagonist's homeland has become a puppet state of The Empire. A significant plot point concerns the revelation of how far another character is prepared to go secure its independence.
  • The Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, kind of. The person holding the strings is Lord Voldemort rather than a foreign power, but it follows the other aspects of this trope. As Lupin explains, Voldemort installed a puppet Minister, rather than declaring himself Minister, in order to avoid an outright rebellion.
  • Komarr in Vorkosigan Saga is a Zig Zag. It is a conquered planet but municipal government is under Komarran jurisdiction so long as it doesn't interfere with Barrayaran interests. However the rule at the top was until recently Barrayaran. However more and more Komarran administrators are taking charge again, and of late even the head of ImpSec Komarr is a Komarran.
  • In the Honor Harrington books, there are quite a few nominally independent star nations in two broad regions of space known as the Shell and the Verge, lying on the edge of the Solarian League and just beyond it, respectively. Quite a few of these nations are in fact under the thumb of the Solarian Office of Frontier Security or various Solarian Transtellar corporations. A similar arrangement was in effect in various weaker star nations near the expanding Peoples' Republic of Haven before Haven and Manticore went to war.
  • In the Alternate History Timeline-191 series, after the United States defeats and occupies Canada during the World War I analogue, Quebec is granted independence and is placed squarely under US influence. It's also implied that many of the other states that emerged and recognized Quebec are puppets of Imperial Germany, a close ally of the United States in this timeline. In turn, the Entente powers such as the Confederate States have puppets as well; the Confederacy's main one is Mexico.
  • In Lucifer's Star, the Archduchy of Crius is destroyed by the Commonwealth and replaced by the Republic of Crius. The Republic of Crius is completely under its control and stated to be a transition before formal annexation. A lot of former Archduchy soldiers and citizens consider it to be a joke or an enemy nation. Amusingly, the Archduchy had its own puppet states with the ruling government of Xerxes being considered one of these by characters like William Balder.
  • In Tales from Netheredge, the Genzies are this for the Calisto Empire at the time of His Tribute: ever since a failed stealth invasion (which became known only as "the Horror" and whose defeat Calisto attributed to themselves) several decades ago, the empire has been steadily taking over their government, trade, and law.
  • The Man in the High Castle has America split into two of these, the Japanese-controlled Pacific States and the Nazi-controlled United States, with the Rocky Mountain States acting as a buffer zone between the two.

     Live Action TV  
  • This is how Star Trek: Enterprise depicts Earth with regards to Vulcan, which seems determined to keep the impulsive and emotional humans under control—at least until Season 4, when Earth steps up to lay the groundwork for The Federation.
  • Rome. Egypt, though the child king Ptolemy XIII denies this until he gets a fatal dose of reality. Cleopatra however is entirely willing to be Caesar's Puppet Queen if it gets her the throne. After his death however she shows she has greater ambitions; not to cast off Roman rule but to establish a joint Egyptian-Roman empire by hooking up with Marc Antony.

     Tabletop Games  
  • In the backstory of Battletech the Star League peacefully integrated the five major states of the Inner Sphere mostly peacefully, and then launched the bloody Reunification War to integrate the four major periphery states. This led to the Taurian Concordat, Magistracy of Canopus, Rim Worlds Republic and the Outworlds Alliance becoming puppets of Star League and economically colonized and exploited. Even when a ruler of the Rim Worlds Republic ultimately caused the fall of Star League several centuries later, having been exploited by the League's economy led to long-term problems for the newly independent Periphery.
  • In Traveller basically any multi-system polity must be a collection of Puppet State s even though sometimes the central government is created by the substates rather then the reverse. The Third Imperium for instance does little more than patrol trade routes and prevent vassal planets from fighting one another (planetary wars are allowed so long as nukes aren't used).
  • As befits a Persian counterpart, the Padishah Empire of Kelesh in Pathfinder adores creating satrapies. Most of the information revealed on Kelesh is in relation to one of their satrapies, Qadira, as the setting mostly focuses on the Inner Sea region, and Qadira is Kelesh' frontier to the Inner Sea. In theory Qadira has a special status, with the satrapy confirmed as hereditary and granted complete internal autonomy in exchange for Qadiran diplomacy and foreign affairs being handled by a separate imperial vizier. In practice periods of strong Kelesh and weak Qadira sees a broad definition of foreign affairs and intense meddling by the imperial intelligence service in Qadira's politics while periods the other way around has Qadira pretty much ignore the vizier and act as a de-facto independent nation.

     Video Games  
  • The Last Remnant has this in Athlum, which is a vassal territory of Celapaleis.
  • Both Unification Wars and Galactic Conquest (sci-fi strategy games in which action points are a regularly renewable resource) feature Vassals, though in reality the "Lord" empire does not exert control over these vassals but instead receives tribute and can send/receive military aid in case of invasion (which is pretty darn frequent).
  • Crimea was suzerain to Begnion in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn.
  • Civilization:
    • In one of the Expansion Packs for Civilization IV, any sufficiently powerful civ can make any sufficiently weak civ into their vassal state. If the vassal grows powerful enough (there are exact numbers), it can regain independence.
    • In Civilization V, you can't make an entire civ into one, but when you conquer an enemy city you have the option between razing it, annexing it (which simply makes it on of your civ's cities, but generates a lot of unhappiness) or making it a puppet (which gives all the science, culture, and gold it generates to your civ, but you cannot control its production, for either buildings or units). The game also introduces city-states, single-city NPC nations. They can be razed, annexed, or puppeted just like enemy cities, but you can also get them on your side through trade and diplomacy, which can have them providing you with their strategic resources, occasionally gifting you military units, and going to war with your enemies.
  • A major part of most Paradox games like Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron.
    • Crusader Kings probably has the strongest version; the player is able to create vassals by giving the aristocrats in his court titles. Assuming relations are good enough he can force these vassals to raise troops for him and even force to them to surrender their title and land (though this is very likely to result in rebellion instead.)
      • The Horse Lords DLC introduces a new mechanic which fits this trope even better: tributaries. Any ruler can subjugate a nearby ruler which makes him a suzerain. The tributary is forced to pay 40% of their income to the suzerain and has to join each of their wars. In exchange the suzerain can't attack or raid his tributaries and tributaries can call their suzerain to their wars (though they can refuse). However, this relationship will end once the suzerain dies, making the tributary independent again. The 2.8 update split this into multiple versions, one of which is permanent unless the suzerain releases them or the tributary wins a war to kick them out.
    • In Stellaris your empire's ruler can recruit governors to rule sectors semi-autonomously. If you uplift a pre-FTL species they become a protectorate of your empire until they achieve technological parity with your empire, then they're incorporated as a vassal. And pre-existing empires can be vassalized through war or diplomacy, update 1.2 introduced tributaries.
    • While most of the games have one or two variants of puppeting, Hearts of Iron IV with DLC have two exclusive scales of sovereignty (one general, one for fascist overlords), starting at close to annexed integrated puppets/reichskommissariate and ending at mostly independent outside foreign policy satellites and dominions (if they get to the point where they could be dropped a tier while already at the lowest, they can be annexed by the overlord, if they can go up a tier when a dominion or satellite they become independent).
  • Can also be established in the Total War series; in earlier games such as Rome, these had to be established through diplomatic negotiations, and this would only rarely work due to the horrific diplomacy system. In more recent games (namely Napoleon and Shogun 2), the game gives the player an option of whether to formally incorporate a conquered nation into its empire or establish a client state.

     Real Life  
  • The Trope Namer was the relation between Egypt and Britain from the 1880's to the Egyptian Revolution of 1956. (And until 1914, Egypt was a de jure Ottoman vassal, plus from 1899, Sudan was a de jure vassal of Egypt and the British, though of course it was the British pulling all the strings.)
  • A hegemony is when a nation has dominating influence over the foreign and military policy of other countries within its region.
  • After the Spanish-American War, newly-independent Cuba became a Puppet State when the United States passed the Platt Amendment which gave Congress the ability to override any Cuban foreign policy decision.
  • Most of the Central American Banana Republics were made that way by the machinations of the United States at the behest of the Mega-Corp United Fruit Company.
  • The satellite states of the Soviet Union. The most frequently cited are those in the Warsaw Pact (Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria), though most of them at various points in the Cold War tried to exercise their own policies away from the Soviet model - sometimes they got clobbered with tanks for it (Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968) and sometimes they got away with it (Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu developed comparatively close ties with the West and even defied the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Hungary's "Goulash Communism" after the '56 crushing that implemented some elements of free-market economics and comparatively better human rights).
    • The view that any and every socialist-leaning group and state in the world was a Soviet puppet colored mainstream American political leadership for much of the Cold War (especially in the early days), regardless of how accurate that description was in reality. When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the general belief in the US was that Kim Il-Sung was acting on Stalin's orders - not until long after the war did it come to light that it was Kim Il-Sung who proposed to Stalin of the idea and had asked him for support. Along similar lines, in 1951 Dean Rusk (later to become Secretary of State under John F. Kennedy) called the People's Republic of China "a Slavic Manchukuo" to draw comparisons to the Imperial Japan-controlled puppet state (part of the reason the US did not switch official diplomatic recognition from Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist government on Taiwan until 1979). This being international diplomacy, suffice to say that reality was far more complicated than such broad generalizations would imply.
  • Some of the nations conquered by the Nazis during World War II, such as Vichy France and Norway under the Quisling regime. This even gave rise to colloquial use of "Vichy" to denote puppet regimes and "Quisling" to denote the treacherous sellouts in charge of those regimes, hence the trope names Vichy Earth and The Quisling referring to specific subtropes of Les Collaborateurs. Also, the Italian Social Republic during the latter part of the war. These puppets aided the Nazis' control over Europe significantly in this respect, as the Germans simply didn't have the manpower to occupy or staff all of their shortlived empire directly.
    • The USSR also set up its own puppet governments in the lands it conquered. For example, on the first day of the invasion of Finland during the Winter War, Stallin set up the Finnish Democratic Republic (nominally ruled by Finish politician Otto Wille Kuusinen) in the first town "liberated" by the Soviet army (I.E. the town of Terijoki, which was abandoned by the Finnish).
  • Scotland technically ended up briefly being a vassal state of England when John Baliol was persuaded to swear fealty to Edward I. John Baliol quickly reneged on this however, and Edward squandered any moral claim he might have had in the situation with a show of stunning brutality during his march north, nearly destroying Berwick upon Tweed, once considered a second Alexandria and reduced by 8,000 people after Edward was through with it to the status of a minor sea-port. Although his hold on southern and midland Scotland lasted up until his death despite a considerable struggle with William Wallace, the sheer hatred of the English stirred up in Scotland went a long way towards being the reason Edward's heirs ultimately lost the country. Ironically, the Scots, after a long period of their noble houses anglicising, were drifting towards the English in terms of culture naturally. Edward I's clumsy attempt to unite the two kingdoms ironically drove the cultures apart and cut an everlasting wedge between the countries that, even with unification, has lasted to this day and could still see the two nations part ways once more. In some ways, the devolved governments of the UK could be seen as this, though it is generally agreed that a referendum would see them a fully independent state, be it Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
  • The client states of the Roman Republic and later Empire.
  • The princely states of British India.
  • The Philippine Islands were a fairly successful example of this under the United States despite the brutal Pacification Campaigns. This seems to have been because of a string of highly successful proconsuls (including General MacArthur who to some degree went native). The locals fought very bravely on the US side during World War II because they believed the promise of future "independence".note 
    • Although that didn't stop the country from acting as a Voluntary Vassal to the US long after "independence", with the sheer level of pro-American loyalties among the Filipinos entirely eclipsing any memory of the brutalities of the Philippine-American War. (It is on record that several of the Filipino oligarch leadership privately opposed even a nominal independence because it would cut off their access to the vast American markets, and they—as landowning exporters of sugar and other cash crops—stood to lose enormous profits if they had no guaranteed buyers.)
    • For that matter, the wartime Second Republic was an even better example, with Jose Laurel being President, but in reality the government was controlled by the Japanese military.
      • Not quite the traditional example of a puppet state. President Laurel was in many ways independent of the Japanese, having refused Japanese "counsellors" (i.e., what effectively made the state a puppet). Also, he was ordered to remain back in Manila and cooperate with the Japanese by the exiled President Quezon, making him something of a puppet for two enemy sides. He also protected members of the resistance in the Presidential Palace, refused (unsuccessfully) to declare war on the Allies and refused (successfully) to form a pro-Japanese Filipino Army. These are some of the reasons why the Second Republic is just one out of five republics and the word President, when used with the name Laurel, does not carry quotation marks (he's considered a legitimate President since the 1960s). One could almost argue that Laurel was no more or less a puppet of Japan than his successors were puppets of the U.S.—especially since under him the Japanese, for all their other abuses, literally beat the Americans to granting Philippine independence in 1943.
  • For that matter, every US State is theoretically this. At some times in history it has been feared that the Federal government would reduce them to provinces, and at other times, it was feared that the states had unusual powers. On the whole, during isolationist periods in US history the state governments prevailed, and during periods of more active foreign policy the Fed prevailed.
    • This is most blatant in Washington, D.C.. Congress can and frequently does override the city's locally elected government for its own benefit.
  • Historically the Kingdom of Ryukyu was this to Japan, or more specifically the Satsuma, the most powerful feudal lords of southern Kyushu. Following the Meiji Restoration and the Satsuma Rebellion, it was annexed outright to become the modern day prefecture of Okinawa.
  • Manchukuo under "The Last Emperor" Puyi is the most (in)famous of Japan's puppet states in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Wang Ching-Wei, a rival of Chiang Kai Shek, headed another puppet state in Central China.
  • The former colonies of The British Empire went through this phase on their way to becoming either the independent Commonwealth Realms or republics. An odd example, since their status was always somewhat vague and it evolved over time. For instance, Canada began in 1867 as four colonies united under a Dominion government. This status effectively gave "responsible government" status to an intermediary between the colonies and London. Over the decades, Canada would take more powers for herself, including the right to raise an increasingly independent army, ending the system of British honours for her citizens (replaced by Canadian equivalents), choosing an actual Canadian as Governor-General (alongside Parliament's right to choose the Privy Council, this guaranteed Canadian control over the executive), and the Statute of Westminster gave effective de facto independence in all remaining home and foreign affairs to the Dominions (for the most part, ending this trope regarding these states). After a few decades of haggling (mostly with the provinces/states of their respective governments), the Realms were able to negotiate the passing of laws that severed Britain's last remaining prerogative: London's right to pass laws affecting the constitution of the former colonies. This effectively solidified Queen Lizzie's position as Sovereign over 16 independent countries, instead of the former satellite states they once were.
  • The German Empire tried to set these up throughout Eastern Europe and via its plan for Mitteleuropa. The German plan was to annex Luxembourg, either annex Belgium or turn it into a puppet state, turn the Netherlands into a German member state in all but name, turn France into an economic puppet, and set up puppet states from Finland to the Don Republic and Kuban in an attempt to form a buffer between Russia and Germany, and, eventually, establish the means for Germany to begin Germanization of the Region. And all of this would be held together by Mitteleuropa, a political and economic alliance that would have been Germany's idea for a United Europe, including its wartime Allies. Germany's attempts to create them during World War I obviously went sour.
  • The Irish Free State created by the Anglo-Irish treaty was a British puppet state until 1948, although some nationalists argue it still is to this day. However, they did remain neutral during World War II.
  • The "Bantustans" in South Africa, ridiculously shaped and economically unviable territories chiefly existing so that the Apartheid regime could assign a new nationality to the blacks they were trying to disenfranchise. Officially they were governed by blacks but those in charge were paid large amounts of money by the South African government. Four of them (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei) were officially granted independence but no one except South Africa recognized them. With the fall of the apartheid regime they were abolished and said lands were reintegrated back into South Africa.