Exploring the Concept of a Protectorate: A Comprehensive Guide

Stalin reaching across a map of eastern Europe main

A protectorate is a nation which is is controlled and protected by a more powerful nation. A protectorate provides various benefits to the powerful nation without the trouble of fully controlling it. The weaker nation is also helped but had various burdens that can cause problems. Judea was a protectorate of Ancient Rome. Cuba was once a U.S. protectorate. The satellite nations of the Soviet Union were one form of protectorate. 

Protectorate: A Form of Imperialism

Imperialism is when a stronger nation or powerful business has significant power over a weaker nation.  The weaker nation is still in some fashion independent but lacks true self-government.

A protectorate is a form of imperialism. A protectorate is a nation that is controlled and protected by another while at least technically still being independent.  A colony is formally part of a nation.  The United States were colonies of Great Britain.  Colonies are not independent. 

A protectorate is different.  It is an independent nation as a matter of world affairs but lacks significant power.  A different nation controls it in various ways.  

A colony is like a child.  A protectorate is like an adult who has a powerful godfather that stops people from harming them.  But, the godfather in return controls the person’s life.  

Ancient Example: Judea 

Protectorates have been around in various forms since early times.  

Ancient Rome allowed some degree of local self-government throughout its empire in return for taxes and the ability to step in if Rome didn’t like what the government did. 

A famous example was King Herod allowed to rule over Judea after Rome conquered the area.  King Herod was a Roman client king and Judea was a Roman protectorate.   

This arrangement benefited both sides. Rome received taxes, a market for goods, and a peaceful buffer zone on the eastern border of their empire. Judea had some local self-government, benefited from Roman power in various ways, and was allowed to practice its own religion.  The usual requirement of a pagan sacrifice to the emperor was not applied.  

Those familiar with biblical history know that there were problems.  Many people opposed foreign control and eventually the Jews rebelled.  In the end, Rome ended the protectorate and directly governed the area.  And, this had significant effects on Jews and Christians.  

20th Century: Cuba 

The United States gained control of various new territories after winning the Spanish-American War.   Cuba, unlike Puerto Rico, was allowed its independence.  For a price.

In 1901, the Platt Amendment was passed.  The Platt Amendment allowed the U.S. to have a naval base (Guantanamo Bay) on the island.  The U.S. also was allowed to militarily intervene when the U.S. deemed it appropriate.  And, deem it the United States repeatedly did.  

Cuba was a U.S. protectorate.  The U.S. in the 1930s abolished the amendment but kept the base.  The U.S. also retained significant power over Cuba until Fidel Castro came into power.  

Soviet Satellites  

European countries had various protectorates in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  For instance, Morocco (in Northern Africa) was a protectorate of France in the first half of the 20th Century.   Many of these protectorates became truly independent after World War II.

One result of World War II was that the U.S. and the Soviet Union became the two superpowers.  The Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe as part of its attempt to retain a balance of power with the United States.  Eastern Europe were Soviet satellite nations

The Soviet Union was the first nation to put an artificial satellite (Sputnik) in space.  They also had satellite nations, which they economically and politically controlled.  

Trusts and Mandates 

Sometimes, areas are granted partial self-rule while still being under the control of other nations.  Great Britain had a mandate over Palestine after World War I and the U.S. held the Northern Mariana Islands as a trust territory after World War II.

Mandates and trust territories are sometimes also considered a type of protectorate.  

Final Thoughts: Who Benefits From a Protectorate? 

A powerful nation obtains various benefits from a protectorate without needing to take the trouble of fully controlling it.  Does the weaker nation benefit?

We saw that Judea did benefit in various ways.  A weaker nation is at risk from nations around them and has fewer resources.  The powerful nation does in some ways “protect” them.

History has shown, however, that lack of power brings with it many disadvantages. 

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.