What Is A Puppet Government?

Throughout history, many countries have apparently had all of their movements dictated by another foreign power "pulling their strings" like a puppeteer.


Puppet Governments, Defined

Throughout history, many countries have apparently had all of their movements dictated by another foreign power. In such a manner, a "puppet state" is a government that has little will of its own, as it needs financial backing or military support. Thus, it acts an a subordinate to another power in exchange for its own survival. The puppet government still holds its own facade of an identity, perpetuated by retaining its own flag, name, national anthem, law, and constitution. However, these type of governments are not considered as legitimate according to international law. Some puppet states are completely independent on paper, but in practice are controlled by other nations or even multi-national companies that have huge interests in that state. A "puppet state" is a condescending term used by the press to describe countries that are alleged as being controlled by another.

Historical Examples

In ancient times, some nations subdued other states and were forced to submit to their way of government, yet these vassal states continued to be seemingly independent. Homeric Troy at one time submitted to the Hittites. Greek city-states and Persia were among the powerful states that practiced these types of subjugation. Republican Rome was also a creator of vassal states, a practice that continued when it became the Roman Empire. One of Rome's more infamous puppet rulers was Herod the Great in Judea. Philip of Macedon also controlled several vassal states. In China, the Yuan Dynasty made a puppet state of the Goryeo Dynasty in Korea. In Medieval England, the king held lesser rulers as puppet rulers over their own domains.

20th and 21st Century Puppet States

The Ottoman Empire controlled many puppet states as its tributary and vassals. Some of these were buffer states, namely Wallachia, Crimea, Transylvania, and Moldavia. Vassals included Serbia, Bosnia, Eastern Hungary, and Bulgaria. Poland was a puppet state from 1916 to 1918 under the Central Powers. Germany made Lithuania a puppet state in 1918. Finland was under Russia in 1918. Belorussia in 1918-1919 was controlled by Germany. Russia in the early 20th Century controlled many puppet states around its borders. During World War II, Japan had many puppet states under its control. Two known ones are Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. At the same period in history, Italy and Germany controlled at one time Hungary, Albania, Vichy France, and Monaco. In the 21st Century, Australia controls the island of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Life in a Puppet State

The superior country who controls a puppet state usually is responsible for building new infrastructure in that state. In some instances, the economic advantage is there but sometimes the relationship does not work at all. The people's standard of living may be elevated or stay the same. On the other hand, when an army occupies a puppet state, life might go into a tailspin and foment a resistance creating a rebellious civilian population bent on taking back its former sovereignty. Many other factors also come into play that decides the population's degree of life. Two of these factors are industrialization and autonomy.

International Recognition and Preventative Measures

Boutros Boutros Ghali, sixth Secretary General of the United Nations, commented during his tenure that “if every ethnic, religious or linguistic group claimed statehood, there would be no limit to fragmentation, and peace, security and economic well-being would become ever more difficult to achieve....” According to the Montevideo Convention, a state must have a defined territory, government, a permanent population, and capacity to enter into relations with other states. The United Nations also delineates between a sovereign state and a puppet state. A puppet state is not recognized under international law. Therefore, preventative measures must be undertaken by international organizations to respond willingly in those cases where puppet states emerge.


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