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Timelord Victorious April 3 2013 11:16 PM

Political expansion limits of the Federation
The Federation has been expanding over a time span of 2 centuries starting with the foundation by 4 worlds (Earth, Vulcan, Andor and Tellar).
Over time more worlds keep joining the organisation, as we all know, to the point where the Federation spans 8000 light years and hundreds of member worlds with no sign of the Federation stopping to incorporate more worlds.

Since the Federation is not an Empire with a minority ruling class, but a collaboration of equal status worlds with democratically elected representatives, how big can it become before its political structure collapses or becomes incapable of acting?

1000 worlds? 5000?

There must be a point where it becomes practically impossible to satisfy the needs and serve the interests of every member world and I think sedition of some worlds becomes inevitable.

What are your thoughts on this?

T'Girl April 4 2013 01:49 AM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation

Timelord_Victorious wrote: (Post 7894792)
There must be a point where it becomes practically impossible to satisfy the needs and serve the interests of every member world ...

The Federation would likely get quickly bogged down if it ever even tried to satisfy the need of all the Membership. Providing a means of common defense and exploration, an avenue for trade, and a diplomatic forum for the Membership between each other and with non-Federation powers might be the majority of what the Federation is tasked to do.

Remember, all Federation Member are highly advanced, warp capable civilizations. Unless there has been some kind of tragedy, the Member governments themselves would largely handle all their people's needs and interests.

Not the Federation.


... and I think sedition of some worlds becomes inevitable.
Seditious speech, acts and organizations can at times be a good thing, as long as what is being said is truthful. If individuals or group want to speak out, again good. If they wish to say campaign to withdraw from the Federation, why should they be stopped?

I can see the Federation actually having a fairly regular traffic of Members coming and going from the Federation. Nothing says membership has to be permanent.

The Federation can decide who they let in, but should have zero say in who leaves.


... how big can it become before its political structure collapses or becomes incapable of acting?
At some point the Federation might have to begin to divide into multiple regional zones, each largely self-sufficient. With a common governing body existing simply for coordination between the zones.

If the Federation were to one day encompass the entire Milky Way galaxy, the idea that a single central council would be able to somehow effectively administer this future Federation is ridiculous.


but a collaboration of equal status worlds ...
Maybe, on Earth today some nations have far more status and "pull" than others. Diplomatically, economically, militarily. It kind of hard to see all the Federation's worlds as having equal status to each other.


... with democratically elected representatives
I think many of the representative teams sent to the council would be simply selected by the Member's government, like the way a United Nations ambassador is picked. But some certainly could be elected.


C.E. Evans April 4 2013 02:13 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
I tend to think that at some point the Federation will enter into an alliance with other nations and form a much larger political entity. At such time, the Federation will either cease to exist with its former member worlds becoming fully integrated into the new alliance, or the Federation will still be around but as a member of something larger.

Either way, I don't see the Federation (as it currently exists) reaching a point where it spans the entire Galaxy--much less other galaxies. Eventually, they'll encounter other galactic governments just as big (if not some that are even bigger, IMO), and treaties may be signed for them to work together for their mutual benefit.

neozeks April 4 2013 04:49 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
It's an interesting question. Though the only real answer can of course be - who the hell knows? :rommie: We obviously have no real life space federations or political entities of comparable or larger size to compare to. We don't know of any federal democratic entities larger than the Federation in the Trekverse, or at least I can't remember any. It's hard to speculate without much data.

If we had to speculate, though, there are some things we can base that on:

1) We know the Federation seems to work comparably well at the size at which it exists in the 24th century.
2) Larger entities than the Federation do exist, but they're either something not really comparable, like the Borg (which are in many ways basically a gigantic single organism) or authoritarian empires, like the Dominion.
3) We can try to extrapolate and scale up from existing Earth institutions.

If we look just at the posibility of a central government machine ruling over a huge entity, regardless of how it does that, we know the Dominion rules over a space and population that I assume is several times larger than the Federation (we don't know that for sure, but I'd say such an estimate is reasonable). Of course, as an empire, the Dominion's position is made easier by the fact it doesn't have to care about the will or the well-being of the population. But then, it's also probably made harder by the fact that the members of the Dominion mostly aren't really willingly part of the Dominion, meaning there's always a danger of rebellion and resistance. So the empire vs democracy comparison can really go either way. And anyway, we know the Dominion largely leaves it's members to run their own affairs so the practical division of powers between the central government and the lower levels probably isn't that much different from the Federation.

Now, to take into account the Federation's democratic and federal side, the key institution regarding that being obviously the Federation Council, the Federation's legislature. How large can the Council be before it stops being a functional institution? If we look at real world examples,the Indian parliament has 790 MPs, though they are divided into two chambers. The single chamber European Parliament has 754 MPs. So if we assume the Federation Council is a single chamber parliament with each Federation member state having a single Councillor, we can say there's real world evidence that a Council for at least 700-800 member worlds can still be a workable place. If we take technological advances into account , the number could probably easily be bigger. (The technology argument really works regarding the whole question. Faster travel, better computers, faster flow of information, they all make governing a large polity easier. Also, they foster greater unity.)

If we look at the number of constituent elements, I think the largest number in a federation today would be the 50 states of USA. The Federation already has more members than that. (The UN does have more members but it's not really comparable to the Federation, it's something much, much more looser). How many more can it have, before it becomes too fractured? I don't know, I'd wager at least several times more, though at some point it probably becomes neccessary to form an intermediate level of government. Though that of course opens the question of how many levels are too many?

Can the Federation and it's population become so large that the very idea of a federation loses democratic legitimacy? Well, as long as the Federation's population on the whole has a feeling of willingly being a single unified political body with a common identity, I'd say the Federation can exist as a legitimate entity regardless of it's size. Would achieving such a feeling and identity be impossible at a certain population size, and if so at which size, again, we can't tell. We do know from human history that there's a clear trend from smaller to larger, from the individual tribes of prehistory to today's nations of over a billion people (and even an emerging sense of transnational - the EU - and even planetary unity). And we do know that trend continues in the Trekverse with united planetary governments and then the Federation.

Finally, this all stands only in comparison to what we have today when it comes to governance. It doesn't take into account all the gazzilion possible societal or even biological changes the Federation's population can experience in the Federation's future. Who knows, at some point they might all become energy beings. Or merge with machines. And there's no way of knowing how something like that could be governed.

tl;dr I'd say a Federation of, say, some 500 members could still work. Maybe even 1000. Any larger than that and it could probably still work, but only with some significant structural changes.

E-DUB April 4 2013 05:04 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
Rather than the US or the UN, a better analogy might be something like NATO, a mutual defense pact made up of independent states. While NATO is more specifically military in scope than the Federation, it is a better comparison, I think, than the others.

I think you reach a point where new members have nothing to offer other than more names on the roster. I also think that at some point scientific advancement will slow as there will be no more gains to be made from existing technology and new theoretical breakthroughs will be required.

Shawnster April 4 2013 05:54 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
This is something that I think changed between TOS and TNG. In TOS I get the impression that the Federation is more of a confederation or loose alliance of worlds. Oh, sure, there is this unifying body, but the member worlds exercise a lot of autonomy. Earth kept doing its own thing. Enterprise operated under the United Earth Space Probe Agency. Earth fought the Romulans and established Earth Outposts and colonies in space. Vulcans manned the Intrepid.

TNG retooled the Federation into a unified government under one president. It was now more "Federation this" "Federation that" as opposed to Earth.

As for how big can the Federation get before it collapses, well, that would depend on the cause of collapse, wouldn't it? In the past governments failed because they were unable to financially support their infrastructure or were unable to completely defend their borders from hostile intruders. In the 24th Century financial burdens seem nonexistent. Scarcity of resources seems to be a thing of the past.

Now, the defense of borders is a good thing to look at. As Timo (I think it was) pointed out in another topic, the Federation could still be the target of the Founders and the Jem'Hadar. That war was about as devastating as the Federation has ever seen. If there was ever a combined assault with the Founders and the Borg attacking the Federation simultaneously, then the whole quadrant could very well collapse due to the limits of ship deployment, resupply, etc...

Warp drive and FTL communications favor larger governments. The Old Republic and the Galactic Empire spanned an entire galaxy. With their (more advanced) FTL technology, they governed a larger area than the Federation and all Alpha Quadrant societies combined. It was internal forces that saw the overthrow of those two governmental systems.

Which leads us back to Timelord's "seditious speech" concept.

indolover April 4 2013 11:49 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
Not necessarily.

It depends on the scope of the Federation "federal" government. Most likely, when a planet joins the Federation, it cedes much of its foreign policy and armed forces to Starfleet, whilst retaining local governance in most areas. I'm sure that on Vulcan, laws governing treatment of Pon Farr are not mandated by the Federation Council. They don't really need to be.

I also think there is no basis for comparison. Federal states exist in the real world due to large geographical or demographic size (or countries with a number of cultures within them). The US as an example probably has more federal/sub-national units than many other federal countries, yet has never shown signs of crumbling due to federalism per se. yes, there was the Civil War, but the principal issue (but not exclusive as all know) was slavery.

King Daniel Into Darkness April 5 2013 12:31 AM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
There was a fun speculative article in The Best of Trek #2, about the fall of the Federation. It postulated an eventual implosion circa 8000 AD, the result of both internal and external pressures. IIRC the Federation had expanded to control ~90% of the galaxy by that time.

Sci April 5 2013 01:43 AM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
It seems to me that the idea that there reaches a point where a democratic polity becomes ungovernable essentially relies on the unconscious a priori assumption that there's not enough resources to serve everyone's interests. In a Federation of such extreme abundance, I don't know that I accept this assumption.

Mr. Laser Beam April 5 2013 02:13 AM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
^ And also there should be no sheer size limit - since this is a universe where real-time FTL communications are possible. So assuming a constant stream of willing new members, there should essentially be NO limits on the size of the Federation.

JirinPanthosa April 5 2013 05:11 AM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
There is no reason given in the show to think the Federation will 'Collapse in on itself' or start behaving tyrannically.

In no version of Star Trek does Starfleet have direct political control over its member planets. Member planets have civilian governments, and so long as their governments adhere to certain basic principles they are not interfered with.

The only reason to think that Starfleet will get so big it will destroy itself is if you're applying modern fashionable cynicism and misanthropy to a universe that's not designed for it.

I suppose it would eventually collapse, only because everything does in the long run.

T'Girl April 5 2013 12:07 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation

JirinPanthosa wrote: (Post 7900900)
so long as their governments adhere to certain basic principles they are not interfered with

That is a contradictory statement.


indolover April 5 2013 03:18 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation

T'Girl wrote: (Post 7901707)

JirinPanthosa wrote: (Post 7900900)
so long as their governments adhere to certain basic principles they are not interfered with

That is a contradictory statement.


Not really. It could be equivalent to US 10th Amendment. The Federation central government may allow the planets autonomy in local/planetary affairs.

indolover April 5 2013 03:21 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
One thing I've wondered though is how come the Federation has never encountered and incorporated a culture with transwarp. It seems most members are at an equal technological level, but the major requirements we see are a planetary government, social and cultural equality and warp technology.

Lord Garth April 5 2013 11:45 PM

Re: Political expansion limits of the Federation
I always saw the Federation becoming part of something larger such as the Commonwealth. Sure Andromeda was terrible and it fell in the pilot, but the actual idea of the Commonwealth in and of itself was sound.

There would have to be layers of government to make the concept work, and a form of communication that would make subspace communication look like radio waves, but it could work if the very top didn't micromanage its worlds.

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