(2020) 1 TWAIL Review 121-151
Published under a Creative Commons licence.
Semi-colonialism is a perplexing concept in international legal scholarship that has more often than not been conflated with colonialism proper. To remedy this analytic confusion, I propose a shift from a focus on the ideological aspects of the imperialism of international law to the semi-colonial practices of informal domination on the ground. To do this, I revisit the understudied concept of the ‘protectorate’ in international law, and analyze its geopolitical uses. The geopolitical dimensions of protection illustrate the importance of geopolitics in the history of international law. After examining the connections between geopolitics and international law, the second part of the article looks into the origins of the strategic region of the ‘Middle East,’ focusing on the history of the protected states of the Trucial treaty system in the Persian Gulf. Finally, I turn to the ‘Question of Oman’ at the United Nations (1957-1965) to illustrate how the practices of informal domination operated through semi-colonial techniques of veiling imperial domination, the legal obfuscation of power relations, the legitimization of unilateral treaty breaking and geopolitical maneuvering with international legal arguments.