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There are a number of issues at play here:

  • DS9 is in orbit around Bajor (before "Emissary")
  • The Cardassians built DS9, using Cardassian design, in orbit around an occupied planet
  • DS9 is, at least to some degree movable ("Emissary")
  • DS9 is a significant military asset

It seems a little odd to abandon something so valuable.

I'm wondering if there's canon discussion of how Bajor came to possess DS9. Is it only because it was considered essentially immovable? Were there any negotiations involved? Any governing laws mentioned? Did Cardassia ever refute the claim by Bajor?

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  • Not sure if related, but the closest equivalent I can think of is that generally the US maintains possession of military bases (Japan, Korean, Cuba, Germany) even after it has no other military presence in those theatres. (I'm people can poke holes in this analogy.) – ThePopMachine Oct 5 '15 at 19:51
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    “DS9 is a significant military asset” — I’m not sure that’s established. It’s definitely an old ore-processing facility. I think Starfleet had to upgrade its weapons in ‘Emissary’ just to give it a chance at defending itself against a couple of ships. It also doesn’t seem warp-capable, so getting it somewhere else where they have ore to process probably isn’t worth the trouble for the Cardassians. – Paul D. Waite Oct 5 '15 at 20:00
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    A better question is why the Cardassians didn't destroy it. – Valorum Oct 5 '15 at 20:06
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    @Richard, detonating the station would destroy simply the station, whereas leaving traps would kill people. Apparently this was standard Cardassian procedure regarding the abandonment of a facility. – Eike Pierstorff Oct 5 '15 at 20:17
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Paul D. Waite Oct 6 '15 at 20:28
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Terok Nor was an ore processing station built in orbit of Bajor during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.

In 2346, the Cardassians used Bajoran slave labor to build an orbital space station known as Terok Nor. - https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Occupation_of_Bajor

It has no warp capability and has basic thrusters to maintain orbit. As an ore processing center (which used ore coming from Bajor and its moons) it had no strategic value to the Cardassians, and would have been a hassle to take with them.

As pointed out in a comment above, it seems to be standard procedure to booby-trap abandoned installations rather than destroy them. - Richard

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  • As pointed out in a comment above, it seems to be standard procedure to booby-trap abandoned installations rather than destroy them. – Valorum Oct 5 '15 at 20:19
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    Also, it only became a significant asset with the discovery of the wormhole. Before that, its only purpose was as a base for the federation to help/assimilate bajor. – Jonathon Oct 5 '15 at 22:20
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    Dukat, at least, was hoping that Cardassia would eventually be able to return. No point in destroying an expensive space station if there's any chance of eventually getting it back. (Presumably, that's also the reason why booby-trapping rather than destroying abandoned installations is standard procedure.) – Harry Johnston Oct 6 '15 at 3:44
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Regarding your observation,

"It seems a little odd to abandon something so valuable",

O'Brien says,

"The Cardassians took every component of value."

(Source)

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    Short and sweet, yet completely addresses the question - excellent: +1 – Often Right Oct 21 '15 at 2:57
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I don't know that DS9: "Emissary" ever explicitly states that the Cardassians gave Bajor the station, which suggests that Bajor claimed it at salvage.

This, by itself does not really answer the question of why the Cardassians left it, however. The closest we can come to a canonical answer to that is DS9: "Empok Nor", where we discover that the Cardassians seem to make a habit of simply abandoning their space habitats when they no longer have a use for them, sometimes going so far as to booby trap them against alien invasion, and thus safeguarding the possibility of eventual re-occupation.

Politically, Cardassia probably didn't feel that they could go that far with Terok Nor, given the scrutiny they were already under by the Federation, with whom they had only just recently concluded a treaty. Bajor's explicit request for Federation assistance would have magnified this aspect. Even if Cardassia had chosen to booby-trap it on their way out, clever people like O'Brien would have successfully dismantled the traps eventually.

More generally, constructing a space habitat is a fairly large undertaking. Once constructed, one does not simply scuttle it without good reason--particularly not in orbit of a populated planet, where the resulting pieces could be expected to de-orbit and make violent impacts upon the surface. Hauling away components for recycling would be problematic--Star Trek doesn't often seem to care much about mass, but volume would be a concern, certainly. Leaving the structure for someone else's use, or for their own later reuse (as in the case of "Empok Nor") costs nothing by comparison.

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