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A protectorate, in the context of international relations, is a state that is under protection by another state for defence against aggression and other violations of law. [1] It is a dependent territory that enjoys autonomy over most of its internal affairs, while still recognizing the suzerainty of a more powerful sovereign state without being a possession. [2] [3] [4] In exchange, the protectorate usually accepts specified obligations depending on the terms of their arrangement. [4] Usually protectorates are established de jure by a treaty. [2] [3] Under certain conditions—as with Egypt under British rule (1882–1914)—a state can also be labelled as a de facto protectorate or a veiled protectorate. [5] [6] [7]


A protectorate is different from a colony as it has local rulers, is not directly possessed, and rarely experiences colonization by the suzerain state. [8] [9] A state that is under the protection of another state while retaining its "international personality" is called a "protected state", not a protectorate. [10] [lower-alpha 1]


Protectorates are one of the oldest features of international relations, dating back to the Roman Empire. Civitates foederatae were cities that were subordinate to Rome for their foreign relations. In the Middle Ages, Andorra was a protectorate of France and Spain. Modern protectorate concepts were devised in the nineteenth century. [11]


Foreign relations

In practice, a protectorate often has direct foreign relations only with the protector state, and transfers the management of all its more important international affairs to the latter. [12] [4] [2] [3] Similarly, the protectorate rarely takes military action on its own but relies on the protector for its defence. This is distinct from annexation, in that the protector has no formal power to control the internal affairs of the protectorate.

Protectorates differ from League of Nations mandates and their successors, United Nations Trust Territories, whose administration is supervised, in varying degrees, by the international community. A protectorate formally enters into the protection through a bilateral agreement with the protector, while international mandates are stewarded by the world community-representing body, with or without a de facto administering power.

Protected state

A protected state has a form of protection where it continues to retain an "international personality" and enjoys an agreed amount of independence in conducting its foreign policy. [10] [13]

For political and pragmatic reasons, the protection relationship is not usually advertised, but described with euphemisms such as "an independent state with special treaty relations" with the protecting state. [14] A protected state appears on world maps just as any other independent state. [lower-alpha 1]

International administration of a state can also be regarded as an internationalized form of protection, where the protector is an international organisation rather than a state. [15]

Colonial protection

Multiple regions—such as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, the Colony and Protectorate of Lagos, and similar—were subjects of colonial protection. [16] [17] Conditions of protection are generally much less generous for areas of colonial protection. The protectorate was often reduced to a de facto condition similar to a colony, but with the pre-existing native state continuing as the agent of indirect rule. Occasionally, a protectorate was established by another form of indirect rule: a chartered company, which becomes a de facto state in its European home state (but geographically overseas), allowed to be an independent country with its own foreign policy and generally its own armed forces.[ citation needed ]

In fact, protectorates were often declared despite no agreement being duly entered into by the state supposedly being protected, or only agreed to by a party of dubious authority in those states. Colonial protectors frequently decided to reshuffle several protectorates into a new, artificial unit without consulting the protectorates, without being mindful of the theoretical duty of a protector to help maintain a protectorate's status and integrity. The Berlin agreement of February 26, 1885, allowed European colonial powers to establish protectorates in Black Africa (the last region to be divided among them) by diplomatic notification, even without actual possession on the ground. This aspect of history is referred to as the Scramble for Africa. A similar case is the formal use of such terms as colony and protectorate for an amalgamation—convenient only for the colonizer or protector—of adjacent territories, over which it held (de facto) sway by protective or "raw" colonial power.[ citation needed ]

Amical protection

In amical protection—as of United States of the Ionian Islands by Britain—the terms are often very favourable for the protectorate. [18] [19] The political interest of the protector is frequently moral (a matter of accepted moral obligation, prestige, ideology, internal popularity, or dynastic, historical, or ethnocultural ties). Also, the protector's interest is in countering a rival or enemy power—such as preventing the rival from obtaining or maintaining control of areas of strategic importance. This may involve a very weak protectorate surrendering control of its external relations but may not constitute any real sacrifice, as the protectorate may not have been able to have a similar use of them without the protector's strength.

Amical protection was frequently extended by the great powers to other Christian (generally European) states, and to states of no significant importance.[ ambiguous ] After 1815, non-Christian states (such as the Chinese Qing dynasty) also provided amical protection of other, much weaker states.

In modern times, a form of amical protection can be seen as an important or defining feature of microstates. According to the definition proposed by Dumienski (2014): "microstates are modern protected states, i.e. sovereign states that have been able to unilaterally depute certain attributes of sovereignty to larger powers in exchange for benign protection of their political and economic viability against their geographic or demographic constraints". [20]

Argentina's protectorates

De facto

Brazil's protectorates

British Empire's protectorates and protected states



South Asia

Western Asia


1960 stamp of Bechuanaland Protectorate with the portraits of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II 1960 6d Bechuanaland Protectorate stamp.jpg
1960 stamp of Bechuanaland Protectorate with the portraits of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II

*protectorates which existed alongside a colony of the same name

De facto


East and Southeast Asia

China's protectorates

Dutch Empire's protectorates

Various sultanates in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia):



Lesser Sunda Islands



The Moluccas

New Guinea

France's protectorates and protected states


"Protection" was the formal legal structure under which French colonial forces expanded in Africa between the 1830s and 1900. Almost every pre-existing state that was later part of French West Africa was placed under protectorate status at some point, although direct rule gradually replaced protectorate agreements. Formal ruling structures, or fictive recreations of them, were largely retained—as with the low-level authority figures in the French Cercles—with leaders appointed and removed by French officials. [35]



1 Sapeque - Protectorate of Tonkin (1905) 1 Sapeque - Protectorate of Tonkin (1905) 02.jpg
1 Sapèque - Protectorate of Tonkin (1905)



Germany's protectorates and protected states

Banknotes of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, 1939-1945 5000 Kronen BM1944.jpg
Banknotes of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, 1939–1945

The German Empire used the word Schutzgebiet, literally protectorate, for all of its colonial possessions until they were lost during World War I, regardless of the actual level of government control. Cases involving indirect rule included:

Before and during World War II, Nazi Germany designated the rump of occupied Czechoslovakia and Denmark as protectorates:

India's protectorates

Italy's protectorates and protected states

Japan's protectorates

Poland's protectorates

Portugal's protectorates

Russia's and the Soviet Union's protectorates and protected states

De facto

Some sources mention the following territories as de facto Russian protectorates:

Spain's protectorates

Turkey's and the Ottoman Empire's protectorates and protected states

De facto

United Nations' protectorates

United States' protectorates and protected states

Contemporary usage by the United States

Some agencies of the United States government, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, still refer to insular areas of the United States—such as Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—as protectorates. [56] However, the agency responsible for the administration of those areas, the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) within the United States Department of Interior, uses only the term "insular area" rather than protectorate. The Philippines and (it can be argued via the Platt Amendment) Cuba at the end of Spanish colonial rule were also protectorates. [52] Liberia was the only African nation that was a colony of the United States; but the US government had no control over the land, as it was controlled by the privately owned American Colonization Society. It was, however, a protectorate from January 7, 1822, until the Liberian Declaration of Independence from the American Colonization Society on July 26, 1847. [50] [51]

De facto

Joint protectorates

See also


  1. 1 2 Protected state in this technical sense is distinguished from the informal usage of "protected state" to refer to a state receiving protection.
  2. Some scholars regard the relationship as one of Priest-patron rather than a protectorate. [32] [33] [34]

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