What Is a Protectorate? A Definition and Overview

What Is a Protectorate?

In this post, we’ll work to define the term “protectorate”. What is a protectorate? Why do we have them? And how do protectorates work?

Big and Small Countries

There are countries of varying size and power throughout the world. Some nations are incredibly large, with extensive armies and influential economies (think Russia, China, and the USA). But others aren’t so big. These smaller countries might lack a powerful military or influential economy, but may have worth in other areas.

If a country is small, they may appeal to one of the larger countries and ask them to protect it. This generally benefits the smaller country because they’ll have more resources at their disposal, but it can also benefit the larger country, especially if the smaller country has something they want or need.

What Is a Protectorate?

In its simplest form, a protectorate is a small country that is protected by a larger one. This larger nation is sovereign, and it generally grants the smaller nation some local autonomy and independence to manage some issues. The larger nation, meanwhile, has control over the protectorate’s foreign policy and international relations.

To develop this relationship, the sovereign nation and the protectorate agree and sign a bilateral agreement. Depending on the type of relationship that is established, the agreement states that the protectorate must fulfill certain obligations for the sovereign nation to protect it. The sovereign nation will impose obligations and rules onto the protectorate, but they will be in line with the agreement that has been determined. The protectorate then becomes part of the sovereign nation.

So is a protectorate the same as a colony? No!

Protectorates are not the same as colonies because protectorates are considered to be an independent state. Colonies have local authorities that have to answer to the sovereign country’s main authority. Colonies are considered to be part of the mother country, and are completely ruled by it, whereas protectorates are only protected by the mother country and have increased autonomy.

Relationship between Sovereign Nation and Protectorate

The relationship between a sovereign nation and a protectorate is generally a friendly one (though not always). This is because both nations tend to benefit from the relationship.

A sovereign nation may take on a protectorate for a variety of reasons, including access to trade routes, minerals, or raw materials for industry. It could also be to gain prestige on an international scale. The protectorate, in turn, receives defense and possibly economic gains by associating themselves with a more powerful nation. While the protectorate is not allowed to defend itself or enter other foreign relationships on its own, they are able to maintain varying degrees of independence.

Regardless of the reason, protectorates have been around for a long time and continue to play an important role in the geopolitical landscape.


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