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A protectorate is a state that is controlled and protected by another sovereign state. It is a dependent territory that has been granted local autonomy over most internal affairs while still recognizing the suzerainty of a more powerful sovereign state without being its direct possession. [1] [2] [3] In exchange, the protectorate usually accepts specified obligations depending on the terms of their arrangement. [3] Usually protectorates are established de jure by a treaty. [1] [2] Under certain conditions as of Egypt under British rule (1882–1914) e.g., a state can also be labelled as a de facto protectorate or a "veiled protectorate". [4] [5] [6]


A protectorate is different from a colony as they have local rulers, are not directly possessed and rarely experience colonization by the suzerain state. [7] [8] However, some sources term a state that remains under the protection of another state while retaining its independence as a protected state, different from a protectorate, [9] while other sources use the terms like synonyms. [10]


Protectorates form 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 and transfers the management of all its more important international affairs to the protector. [12] [3] [1] [2] 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. [13] [14] For political and pragmatic reasons, the relationship of protection is not usually advertised, but described in euphemisms such as "an independent state with special treaty relations" with the protecting state. [15] 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. [16]

Colonial protection

Conditions regarding 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 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.

In fact, protectorates were declared despite not being duly entered into by the traditional states supposedly being protected, or only 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, a logic disrespectful of the theoretical duty of a protector to help maintain its protectorates' 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 logic.

Amical protection

In amical protection as of United States of the Ionian Islands by Britain, the terms are often very favourable for the protectorate. [17] [18] 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 smaller states that had no significant importance.[ ambiguous ] After 1815, non-Christian states (such as the Chinese Qing dynasty) also provided amical protection towards 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". [19]

Argentine protectorate

De facto protectorates

British protectorates and protected states


Arab world


South Asia

Rest of Asia


Sub-Saharan Africa

*protectorates which existed alongside a colony of the same name


Chinese protectorates

Dutch protectorates

French protectorates


Arab world and Madagascar



Sub-Saharan Africa

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

The legal regime of "protection" was the formal legal structure under which French colonial forces expanded in Africa between the 1830s and 1900. Almost every pre-existing state in the area later covered by 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 the lowest level authority figure in the French Cercles, with leaders appointed and removed by French officials. [38]


German protectorates

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:

Indian protectorates and protected states

Italian protectorates

In Europe:

In the colonial empire:

Japanese protectorates

Polish protectorates

Portuguese protectorates

Russian protectorates

De facto protectorates

Some sources mention following states as de facto Russian protectorates: [42] [43] [44] [45]

Spanish protectorates

Turkish protectorates

De facto protectorate

United States protectorates

Contemporary usage by the United States

Some agencies of the United States government, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, still use the term protectorate to refer to insular areas of the United States such as Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [53] This was also the case with the Philippines and (it can be argued via the Platt Amendment) Cuba at the end of Spanish colonial rule. [48] Liberia was the only African nation that was a colony for the United States but the 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. Liberia was founded and established as a homeland for freed African-Americans and ex-Caribbean slaves who left the United States and the Caribbean islands with help and support from the American Colonization Society. [46] [47] 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.

De facto protectorate

United Nations protectorates

Joint protectorates

See also


  1. Protected state in this technical sense is distinguished from the informal usage of "protected state" used for distinguishing the receiving state of protection from the protecting state.
  2. Some scholars regard the relationship as one of Priest-patron rather than a protectorate. [33] [34] [35]

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    Alice L. Conklin. A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa 1895–1930. Stanford: Stanford University Press (1998), ISBN   978-0-8047-2999-4.
    Patrick Manning. Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, 1880–1995. Cambridge University Press (1998) ISBN   0-521-64255-8.
    Jean Suret-Canale. Afrique Noire: l'Ere Coloniale (Editions Sociales, Paris, 1971); Eng. translation, French Colonialism in Tropical Africa, 1900 1945. (New York, 1971).
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