This is the mistake I think a lot of Trek fans make. The Cardassian are not, repeat are not, weaker than the Federation, they can't be. These two interstellar power fought for decades, the Federation didn't in that time roll over the Cardassians. If the Federation were superior in technology and numbers at the very least Starfleet would have destroyed the bulk of Cardassian military starships. Obviously they did not.
The Federation eventually signed a treaty that all agree was a compromise, the Federation didn't dictate terms to the Cardassians, which they had not choice but to accept.
Respectfully disagree. If they were on equal footing, Benjamin Maxwell would have been destroyed in short order.
The problem isn't that the Feds couldn't
roll over the Cardies, it's that they wouldn't
roll over the Cardies. They seem to fight only defensive wars, and they have this crazy thing about not conquering people.
Watch any Cardassian episode that takes place before their union with the Dominion. When are they "scary"? In "Chain of Command" it's when they erroneously are thought to have WMDs and once Picard is captured they are scary only in that the Feds will be embarrassed if their mistake is made public.
In DS9 they are scary in the first few episodes when it is a warship versus runabouts and a mining facility.