Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for every iteration of the Star Trek franchise, as well as from the trailers for Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.
Over the last few days we’ve looked at a couple of the main Star Trek factions that seem certain to make an appearance in Star Trek: Picard. In case you missed them, you can find my articles on the Borg by clicking or tapping here, and on the Romulans by clicking or tapping here. In this article I’m continuing to look at some (hopefully) useful background information as we prepare for Star Trek: Picard, and oh boy, today’s faction is the big one!
The United Federation of Planets – or simply “the Federation” for short – is the faction to which our protagonists and heroes in every iteration of Star Trek belong. Okay, maybe that isn’t strictly true, because we’ve seen non-Federation citizens as main characters in Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and because of its setting technically no one in Enterprise was a Federation citizen until after that show’s finale. But you know what I mean!
The Federation is not to be confused with Starfleet. Starfleet is the Federation’s deep-space exploration and military arm, but it is not synonymous with the entire Federation. Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel may hail from non-Federation worlds, and being a Federation citizen does not make an individual a member of Starfleet.
The Federation, at the moment of its founding in 2161, consisted of four species, and throughout its history – with the possible exception of the future glimpsed in the trailers for Discovery’s third season – remained a faction which incorporated many different species under one banner.
The four founding members were: humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites. These four species’ homeworlds are in relatively close proximity to one another in the Alpha Quadrant, and Vulcans were the first extraterrestrial race encountered by humanity.
Other important members, as of the late 24th Century, were as follows: Betazoids, Bolians, Catians, Deltans, Rigellians, and the Zakdorn. The Federation also offered protectorate status to some species, including the Evora. The Bajorans, because of the heavy Federation presence in their system, could be arguably considered a Federation protectorate too, and were a candidate for full Federation membership.
Two of the most important criteria for a species to meet before being permitted to join the Federation were a united planet/species not divided into factions or nation-states, and having achieved the technological milestone of warp drive. Some species, like the Bajorans, fulfilled these criteria, but other factors prevented the Federation from seeing them as viable members for a time.
Members of the Federation were fairly autonomous. The Vulcans, for example, were seen to maintain their own fleet of starships, their own science academy which was at least equal in standing to Starfleet academy, their own “expeditionary group”, and their own government – even into the 24th Century. Spock was the first Vulcan to serve in Starfleet, though many others would follow. In the 24th Century, there were Starfleet ships whose crews were entirely made up of a single species – often Vulcans. However, the norm appears to be for multi-species crews.
In the aftermath of conflicts and skirmishes with the Klingons, and especially with the Romulans, four Alpha Quadrant powers – the Vulcans, humans, Andorians, and Tellarites – agreed to work together in the interests of safety and technological cooperation. The Andorians and Vulcans had long been adversaries – even before humanity achieved warp drive and joined the galactic community – but were able to set their animosity aside and band together. The ceremony which marked the Federation’s official founding took place in San Francisco on Earth.
Earth was arguably chosen to headquarter the Federation as a neutral venue controlled by neither the Vulcans nor the Andorians – whose confrontational past was still an obstacle to be overcome. Regardless of the reasoning, Earth remained the Federation’s headquarters into the late 24th Century, seemingly hosting the entire Federation government as well as Starfleet.
By the end of the 22nd Century, the Federation’s economy transitioned entirely away from money, as technology had improved for all members and was able to provide a better standard of living for all citizens. The Federation retained some form of “credit” which could be considered a currency, but by this point it’s assumed that technology like food synthesizers and the availability of energy to power everything meant that the entire economy was transformed. Picard states that, as of the 24th Century, the goal of humanity was to “better itself” rather than pursue material goods. This was a core part of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
In the 23rd Century, the Federation was focused on exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. First contact was made with many species in this region, and several would join the growing Federation. The Klingons were left feeling ill at ease with this expansion, particularly the presence of human colonies, and a cold war between the Federation and Klingons began brewing. This ultimately boiled over into a very costly war between the two factions, which was only ended when Starfleet threatened to use a superweapon to trigger mass volcanic eruptions on the Klingon homeworld which would have devastated the Empire. The Klingon Great Houses were thus forced to sue for peace, despite the Federation’s weakened position as a result of the war.
The Federation recovered quickly, however, and resumed the scientific and exploratory work that they had been engaged in prior to the Klingon war. In this era, Constitution-class starships, such as the USS Enterprise commanded by Captains Pike and Kirk, made up the bulk of Starfleet. The Federation also discovered the Mirror Universe around this time, populated by an aggressive, expansionist empire led by that universe’s Earth.
Aside from brief skirmishes with the Klingons and Tholians, the Federation remained mostly at peace in the second half of the 23rd Century, though it did face challenges such as a rogue AI created by Section 31, a planet-killing superweapon that entered the Milky Way from another galaxy, V’Ger, a hyperintelligent machine, Khan, a 20th Century despot who had been genetically enhanced, and a probe that threatened Earth.
The Federation continued its exploration, however, including missions further and further into deep space, often requiring ships and their crews to spend years at a time away from the faction’s core in the Alpha Quadrant.
By the end of the 23rd Century, the Federation and Klingons had signed a peace agreement and were working together to alleviate the problems on the Klingon homeworld caused by a devastating explosion on the moon of Praxis. The Khitomer Accords would remain in force throughout the 24th Century – with a brief lapse in which the Klingons and Federation again engaged in a few skirmishes over the course of a few months.
The Romulans and the Federation had a Neutral Zone separating their territories, and after failed attempts to invade and then to disrupt the budding peace process, the Romulans remained inactive from the Federation’s perspective for most of the first half of the 24th Century.
In the years prior to The Next Generation, which takes place in the 2360s, the Federation were involved in conflicts, wars, and/or skirmishes with: the Breen, the Cardassians, the Gorn, the Tholians, and the Tzenkethi. None of these wars appear to have been as significant nor as damaging as the earlier Klingon war.
When the Cardassians and Federation agreed to a peace treaty, several Federation worlds were transferred to Cardassia and were no longer under Federation jurisdiction despite being home to colonies. Some of these colonists, along with others on the Cardassian border, broke away from the Federation. Calling themselves the Maquis, they would attempt full secession from the Federation, which considered them little more than terrorists, but were ultimately eradicated in brutal fashion when the Cardassians allied with the Dominion.
By the mid-late 24th Century, the Federation’s two biggest adversaries were newly-contacted factions: the Borg and the Dominion. The Federation faced two major Borg attacks, where each time a single Borg vessel was able to take on a huge fleet of Federation ships, and a protracted war against the Dominion. Both events significantly drained the Federation’s resources.
Prior to the outbreak of the Dominion War, a Starfleet Admiral named Leyton attempted a military coup against the democratic government, under the impression he was the only one capable of “saving” the Federation and its ideals from the manipulations of the Dominion and their shape-shifting Founders.
During the Dominion War, the Cardassians and Breen allied with the Dominion – who were originally from the Gamma Quadrant – and inflicted heavy losses on Starfleet and their Klingon and Romulan allies. Many ships were lost, and key Federation worlds such as Betazed were captured, as well as Deep Space Nine, which was the gateway to the Gamma Quadrant. It was only thanks to the intervention of the Prophets – a noncorporeal race who live in the Bajoran wormhole – that Dominion reinforcements were prevented from arriving, paving the way for the Federation alliance’s victory, but not before the Breen attacked Earth itself.
The Breen’s attack on Earth damaged Starfleet headquarters, and while it was able to be repulsed, it left many in the Federation badly shaken and emphasised how close they were to defeat.
Shortly after the war’s end, the USS Voyager returned from the Delta Quadrant, bringing knowledge of that region as well as technology designed for battling the Borg. The Federation would also face an attack by the Romulans shortly thereafter, though relations between the two powers looked set to improve when the leader in power was defeated, and Romulan ships came to the Federation’s aid to prevent an attack on Earth.
Relations between the Romulans and Federation had reached a point where the Romulans turned to the Federation for help when facing the supernova crisis. Admiral Picard would lead a rescue armada to save as many Romulans as possible, though an attack by a faction called the “rogue synths” against Mars destroyed at least a portion of this fleet.
Beyond the 25th Century…
This should bring us up-to-date… only it doesn’t, because we’ve also seen some glimpses of the Federation’s future.
Cardassians, Xindi, and Klingons would all seem to have joined the Federation by the 26th or 27th Centuries, and by the 31st Century, the Federation was routinely travelling through time in much the same way as they had explored space from the 22nd-24th Centuries. They considered themselves in this era to be a kind of temporal police force, correcting errors in the timeline and trying to prevent other factions in a “temporal cold war” from rewriting history.
By the time the USS Discovery arrives – supposedly the late 32nd or early 33rd Century – the Federation appears to be in a much weaker state, perhaps having suffered numerous secessions and being set back technologically. But that’s a problem for Discovery to deal with in Season 3!
Society and Culture
The Federation, as a loose union of many races, doesn’t have one single culture of its own. While all member planets are committed to the principles of peaceful exploration and democratic governance, they each have their own distinct histories and cultures which mix together in the Federation without any one culture being dominated and forced out by another.
Though we see far more humans than any other species, this is arguably for production reasons – it’s cheaper to have Ensign McRedshirt who will only be on screen for three seconds in one episode be human than have to put him through expensive prosthetic makeup or use time-consuming digital effects. So it’s worth remembering that while we, as the audience of a television series, see the Federation as a primarily human enterprise, humanity is just one part, and there were, as of the 24th Century, more than 150 Federation members. Some of these will have been colonies, but many were distinct species.
It isn’t exactly clear what the majority of Federation civilians do with their time. We’ve only seen two main characters in Star Trek thus far who were non-Starfleet Federation citizens: Wesley Crusher and Jake Sisko. Wesley would, in fairly short order, become an acting ensign and later go to Starfleet Academy, so he doesn’t really count. Jake was a bit of a drifter for much of DS9′s first half, until the show’s writers eventually settled on making him a novelist and journalist. We’ve seen his grandfather, Joseph Sisko, as a restaurateur, though in a world without money and with access to food replicators, how much of a need there is for that job and how he came to own/use the building is up for debate. We’ve also seen Picard’s brother, Robert, and his family running the vineyard that Picard himself will take over in the new series. Other non-Starfleet personnel we’ve seen have been primarily scientists or diplomats, and there was clearly a huge amount of scientific research being conducted in the 24th Century.
The government of the Federation is similarly vague, but we know it has a legislature called the Federation Council, and an executive branch headed by a President. There is also a judicial system – though when it comes to Starfleet, military-style courts-martial rather than jury trials are the way justice is applied.
Vulcan was the first of the Federation worlds to develop faster-than-light travel, while humanity was still living in the Dark Ages around the fall of the Roman Empire! Andorians and Tellarites were also spacefaring before humanity, and the Andorians and Vulcans had a centuries-long conflict that was only resolved shortly before the Federation was founded.
Despite coming late to the party, humanity developed quickly from the end of World War III through to the mid-22nd Century, such that the Vulcans thought they were moving too fast and weren’t ready for significant missions into deep space. The Vulcans – and presumably the Tellarites and Andorians – had been somewhat conservative in their explorations prior to humanity becoming warp-capable, and by the 23rd Century, humans were venturing far deeper into the unknown than the Vulcans had in almost two millennia.
By the 24th Century, the Federation was one of the biggest powers in the Alpha Quadrant, and as such their technology kept pace with the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and others. However, the Federation were limited by their lack of cloaking devices, which had been prohibited as part of an agreement with the Romulans. The Breen had a particular type of energy weapon which, for a time, was capable of draining even a fully-shielded Federation starship of all its power, and the Federation were similarly outgunned by the Dominion from the Gamma Quadrant, especially during early encounters. The Borg were also a significantly more powerful faction, as a single Borg cube was capable of defeating an entire Federation battle fleet.
Phasers were the Federation’s primary weapons, both shipboard and handheld. And photon torpedoes and later quantum torpedoes provided many starships with powerful antimatter explosives. The most powerful Federation starships were capable of surpassing warp 9.9 by the latter part of the 24th Century – though relative warp factors have always been a weak point in Star Trek storytelling! The Federation had sensors capable of penetrating certain types of cloaking devices, as well as scanning light-years away for very specific items, objects, or types of radiation.
Montgomery Scott invented “transwarp beaming” – a new kind of teleportation which was able to allow the Federation to transport huge distances, including from Earth to the Klingon homeworld and onto moving starships. This was invented in the late 24th Century, and Spock took it with him to the alternate reality’s 23rd Century.
The Federation had experimented with time travel, artificial intelligences, cloaking technology – including a phase cloak capable of passing through solid objects, life-lengthening technology (such that a human living past 140 years of age was possible), and various trans-warp engines. Not all of these experiments were successful.
In the last two articles, I said that it was hard to know what state the Borg and Romulans were in as a result of two potentially massive catastrophes those two factions faced the last time we saw them. That doesn’t apply to the Federation, as everything we’ve seen in the trailers for Star Trek: Picard shows them running smoothly, just as we left them. It has been indicated that perhaps all is not well in the galaxy as a whole, but for the Federation it seems that, as of the beginning of Star Trek: Picard at least, things are going alright.
The Short Treks episode Children of Mars showed the Federation under attack by a faction called the “rogue synths” in the years prior to Picard. Whether this conflict lasted, and whether there were further significant losses beyond the Mars shipyards isn’t known, but again just going off the trailers it would seem that whatever impact the “rogue synths” attack(s) had was forgotten a few years later.
It’s only a couple of days now till we’ll have Star Trek: Picard on our screens. I’ve got one more piece planned in this series, and then I’ll probably take a break until I’ve seen the first episode (it comes out on the 24th here in the UK). I’m really looking forward to hanging out with Picard again and being back in the 24th Century. As before, I hope the information above has given you some background, or just a refresher, on the Federation as we await Star Trek: Picard.
The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.