Sela's appearances in Trek literature, first in Rough Beasts of Empire
then in Indistinguishable from Magic
have made me think about the character and her past exploits.
On the whole, I think I like the character. There's some cheese yes, but there's also something compelling in the character of that young girl whose confused scream in the middle of the night killed her mother and who went on to become a powerfully driven and capable servant of Romulus, whatever it thought of her.
Sela has grand complicated plans that fail? Yes, but the Romulan modus operandi is for grand complicated schemes involving remarkable innovations and their ruthless deployments, so Sela cannot be properly faulted for that. And hey, some of her schemes very nearly did pay off spectacularly. A sockpuppeted Klingon Empire would have worked out well for the Romulans.
But what about the Romulan protectorate of Vulcan? Surely, only two thousand Romulan soldiers pitted against one of the core worlds of the Federation any Romulan invasion force would impossible, right? No matter how well-trained these soldiers were, it would be impossible for them to take over a highly-developed planet, to be "entrenched" and "very difficult" to get out as Sela said, never mind to support a new Vulcan government that would "embrace their Romulan cousins." One might as well have expected the terrorists who attacked Mumbai in 2008 to have taken over control of that city from India. It would be a great way to start a Federation-Romulan war, sure, but that's it.
Sela's not stupid: I'm certain she'd know the problems with that plan as presented alone. I'm even more certain that the rest of the Romulan government would have known that the numbers would be impossible: warmongering militarists many Romulan politicians might be, I don't see the entire Star Empire as that unhinged.
So. How could the plan to establish a Romulan protectorate over Vulcan in "Unification" without triggering a general war have worked?
My solution is simple. It seems to be established convention to call Vulcans and Romulans separate species, but that's a simple case of a cultural distinction being overdefined as a biological distinction. The ancestors of the Romulans left Vulcan almost exactly two thousand years before Sela's efforts, and notwithstanding the non-representativeness of the proto-Romulan colonists of the wider Vulcan population and whatever later drift and engineering occurred on and around Romulus, Vulcans and Romulans still constitute a single species with a shared cultural heritage.
I'd also argue that the way of Surak is a minority faith among Vulcans. I'd guess that the number of Romulan Vulcans is far greater than the number of Federation Vulcans, if only because the Romulans have been aggressively expanding their territories and population for centuries while Vulcan has been a much more conservative pocket empire. Even within Vulcan territory, Syrranite doctrines only took off after the formation of the Federation, and prominent Vulcans like head of state Administrator V'Las were acting on behalf of Romulus. Stereotypically Romulan ethics and mores seem to be much more common on Vulcan than people thought. And on Taking Wing
, the two Vulcan political experts on Romulus are icily polite to each other on Vulcan's 50:50 division between supporters and opponents of reunification.
How did Sela and the Romulan Star Empire think that they could pull off a Romulan protectorate of Vulcan? They thought that they could draw on the support of large pre-existing segments of pro-Romulan sentiment within Vulcan. The two thousand Romulan soldiers may have been intended for use only in critical areas, to secure facilities of particular importance or to help pro-Romulans repress pro-Federation dissent. The Romulan protectorate over Vulcan still would have been risky, but if--if
--it seemed that Romulan protectorate might be desired ...