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I'm working on a story where a corrupt government official manages to blackmail his nation's government into secretly letting him and his cohorts run things from behind the scenes. This is achieved by threatening them with orbital bombardment (or at least something in that ballpark) if they don't surrender control.

My question is: "Which members of the nation's government would he need to threaten in order to get control of the country?"

This country's government is in the style of that of a western nation from earth, with a prime minister and a parliament. (Please let me know if there are other details of this this govt. that I need to be more specific about.)

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    $\begingroup$ "Threatening them with orbital bombardment" means war. When a country is at war, the normal civilian governent is not all that important. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 7, 2023 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ What does "get control of the country" even mean? Let's say you do have a bunch of politicians in your pocket. You don't control the country then. At best you might be able to pass or forbid some laws. Maybe divert government resources. But that's not "the country". What you call "style of western nation from earth" governments (which differs between Germany, UK, and US to name a few but still) are typically divided to not concentrate too much power in one place and be resilient to authoritarian regimes. How well that is done can vary but it's not like you can paint "governments" all the same. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 7, 2023 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ No need to control ANY member of the government. No need for orbital threats. What is needed is to have the civil servants on your side. Do watch the series "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" :) $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2023 at 16:39

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Generally, you need 3 things:

1: Sufficient support from the Military.

"And force, my friends, is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived." -Robert Heinlein.

No matter who you bribe and blackmail if you don't have the means to enforce your rule, you are out of luck. Blackmailing the Generals isn't sufficient either - the Grunts have to want to side with you.

2: Sufficient support from the Police.

Now this one varies - because if you have the Military totally under control, you can use Martial Law and do it that way, but eventually you are going to need to have a Civillian police force - and just like the Military, you need more than just the senior staff to side with you.

3: As mentioned by Duncan Drake - the great documentary (disguised as a Comedy program) of 'Yes, Minister' and 'Yes, Prime Minister' shows how much power really resides in the unnamed and faceless functionaries and bureaucrats - it's them you need to worry about.

It's a classic reason why Dictators will choose loyal but incompetent Generals and aides over competent ones who can think for themselves.

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This method is impractical in a democratic country with a reasonably free press. You may have control of the top level of the government, but there are profound limits on what its members can do without being exposed and thrown out of government.

We have a recent example in the United Kingdom. Liz Truss became Prime Minister on September 6th 2022. All was reasonably OK for her until September 23rd, when the government announced a financial plan. The governing party were generally in favour of it, but the financial markets from which the government would have needed to increase borrowing significantly were very sceptical. They reckoned that they would need to charge a substantial risk premium on lending that money, and that the plan posed an obvious risk of the country defaulting on its obligations. The government started shedding ministers on October 14th, and its decision-making became less and less rational as its credibility collapsed. On October 20th, the Prime Minister had to resign, since she had lost the support of her party.

In your case, assume you have achieved control over the Prime Minister and their Cabinet. You can tell them to do things, and they dare not try to do them. However, as soon as they start doing things that don't fit their previous objectives and activities, people will start to wonder why. There are several categories of these people:

  • Less senior politicians will ask "Why are we doing this?" If they don't get answers, the credibility of the blackmailed leaders starts to evaporate. Blackmailing all of them is basically impossible: there are hundreds of them, and many of them have close relationships with journalists. The secret will be blown almost immediately.

  • Civil servants will rapidly become suspicious that something corrupt is going on. Since politicians can't actually do much themselves, only give instructions to civil servants, the senior civil servants will soon be able to assemble a picture of what's going on. If the Prime Minister doesn't have answers to their questions, and nor do any of the Cabinet, they're likely to call in the police and present a case of corruption. Trying to corrupt them just creates more evidence.

  • Journalists will be immensely interested in strange activities by the government, and are likely to put things together, since that's the basic skill of political journalism. Trying to corrupt them is hard: you may get a few, but that just makes the story bigger for those who resist.

Now, if you want to do the same kind of thing in a dictatorship, that's more practical. Still not easy, though: people who try to order dictators around have a surprisingly high rate of fatal accidents.

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