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All through TNG, the Romulans were locked in a cold war with the Federation. Then at the end of Season 2 of DS9, they suddenly loan the Federation a cloaking device for use in the Defiant. This felt completely out of character and I feel like I missed a thawing of their relationship.

Was any reason given for the loan of the cloaking device beyond "We've discovered The Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant, give us a cloak"?

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    the massive quadrant wide war will do that for you. – Himarm Dec 14 '16 at 20:30
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    I DS9: The Search it was stated that it was because it served the Romulan's interests (sharing the use of a cloak in return for intelligence-sharing). There's really no good reason given why they were allowed to keep it after that though, nor why they were able to use it in the Alpha Quadrant, – Valorum Dec 14 '16 at 20:39
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    @Valorum "Why they were able to use it in the Alpha Quadrant" They weren't supposed to – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 15 '16 at 12:00
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    @Valorum: Obvious that they were using it in the Gamma Quadrant, yes. Granted once the Dominion moved into Cardassia and the war kicks off, things get a little more wooly. I would wholly expect the Romulans to extend the terms of the loan to include all Dominion-held territory. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 15 '16 at 13:30
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    For a RL example of a country providing aid to another country that it didn't exactly get along well with, look no further than the Allies of World War Two. Winston Churchill wasn't very keen on Stalin, in fact, he didn't really like him at all, but he was willing to give significant military aid to him because Hitler. – Robert Columbia Dec 15 '16 at 14:22
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Consider the Romulan's position. There was a new region of space suddenly accessible, with none of the history or diplomatic complexity of the Alpha quadrant. They need information, or else they risk falling further behind in power in the Alpha Quadrant. The problem for them is that their relations with the federation (and by extension Bajor) make it very troublesome for them to access the Gamma Quadrant. According to Memory Alpha, no romulan ships entered the Gamma Quadrant until the Tal'Shiar attack on the Founder's Homeworld.

Since the Romulans didn't have free access to the wormhole (their cloaked vessels still cause the wormhole to visibly open, and they didn't have free access to Federation or Bajoran space) they used the Defiant to do the job for them. They made a very specific alteration to the treaty banning Federation use of cloaking devices, so that one could be installed on the Defiant.

Originally, the cloak was monitored by a Romulan office named T'Rul. She had the opportunity to explore one of the Federation's most advanced warship prototypes from within, which may have factored into the Empire's decision process. It was also limited in use to the Gamma Quadrant. Later these restrictions were either lifted or ignored. Eventually the Empire and the Federation entered an alliance, meaning their strained relationship would be less of a concern, though no further ships were equipped with cloaking devices during DS9.

The first episode with the cloaking device also reveals the Romulans are aware of some limitations of their cloaking devices, which they may (this is conjecture) conceivably use to prevent the Defiant from becomming a direct threat to them if war ever breaks out.

It has also been shown that the Federation is technologically capable of making a cloaking device of their own, and have instances of Klingon devices they could reverse-engineer. There is also the possiblity that they could simply buy or request the devices from the Klingon's during their alliance. The Federation only avoids cloaking technology on diplomatic grounds, not technological, or economical.

In conclusion Even with a cold war, or at least cold relations, the Romulans had a lot to gain from giving a single Federation ship a cloaking device. They risked very little in providing a single device and license to use it.

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    I would add that even if they could send their own cloaked ships to gather intelligence, it's more characteristic of them to pull the strings from behind the scenes anyway. Why risk your own ships when someone else is willing to risk their ship instead? – HopelessN00b Dec 14 '16 at 23:56
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    Hell, if they had refined The Pegasus to avoid the problems it had with phasing into solid matter, it would have surpassed Romulan and Klingon technology. – SGR Dec 15 '16 at 10:51
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    "they had to de-cloak before enterring" Is that definitely true? – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 15 '16 at 12:01
  • @lightnessracesinorbit - No. Cloaked romulan vessels caused the wormhole to open in the two-parter where they attack the home world of the founders. – Valorum Dec 15 '16 at 15:04
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    FWIW, actual RDM later stated: "We wanted to throw in a line somewhere explaining that there was a follow-on agreement with the Roms that allowed us greater freedom with the cloak, but never found a comfortable place to put it." – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 15 '16 at 17:46
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With the revelation of the Wormhole and the Dominion the Federation wanted to explore the Gamma quandrant and learn anything they could about them. The Romulans were also interested in this, and allowed a Romulan cloaking device be installed on the Defiant to be used only under Romulan supervision and only in the Gamma Quadrant.

the Romulan Star Empire installed one of their cloaking devices aboard the vessel to aid in its mission – in exchange for any intelligence gained on the Dominion.memory alpha

According to Sisko, a Romulan officer (T'Rul) was supposed to join the Defiant crew to operate the cloaking device and ensure its safekeeping. However, no Romulan liaison officers were seen aboard the Defiant after DS9: "The Search, Part II". memory alpha

Once the Show progressed, the cut out the Romulan officer, at least from being visually present, and used the cloak in the alpha quadrant as well.

SISKO: A few introductions are in order. This is Subcommander T'Rul from the Romulan Empire. She's here to operate the cloaking device which her government so kindly loaned us for this mission.

T'RUL: Romulan interests will be served through cooperation, and my role is to keep unauthorised personnel away from the cloaking device. script

The continued use of the Cloaking device was most likely a violation of the treaty between the Romulans and the Federation, but was either unknown by the Romulans or overlooked due to the war.

  • chakoteya.net/DS9/447.htm - Ahem – Valorum Dec 14 '16 at 20:40
  • @Valorum ty ty added – Himarm Dec 14 '16 at 20:42
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    Indeed. The Romulans may not trust the Federation entirely, but a whole new quadrant and all the dangers / benefits that could be found there? The Romulans can't ignore that. Giving the Feds a cloaking device and working with them would be easier than constantly trying to sneak through the wormhole themselves. Also a good way to keep an eye on what the Federation is doing over there. – Steve-O Dec 14 '16 at 20:42
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The Federation has a long tradition of not wanting a cloaking device. The Romulans know that if the Federation wants a cloak, they have three options:

  • Develop an indigenous device. They know from the Pegasus incident that the Federation's engineering prowess is second-to-none, and if the Federation really wants to, they can achieve and eclipse Romulan technology. Nothing about this is good for the Romulans. It is a disaster.
  • Borrow a Romulan device. This gives the Romulans a lot of power, because it makes the Federation beholden to them, it forces a warming of relations, and it keeps the Romulan finger on the pulse of what's going on. It goes without saying that the loan wouldn't be for free.
  • Borrow a Klingon device. This leaves the Romulans totally shut out.

Now the Romulans have some choice from there. They can

  • Loan a frontline top tier device, like the way the US sold fully capable F-14 Tomcats to Iran.
  • Loan an "export model" as it were, like how the Soviet Union sold a downgrade version of the T-72 tank to Iraq, which we curbstomped. A tank battle with the Soviets would've been nothing like 73 Easting. The loaned cloak could be a previous model, or have defects deliberately introduced that the Romulans knew how to see.

The loaning of the cloaking device, while it benefited the Federation, was a huge achievement for the Romulans - all win for them, little risk and no lose. The loan quells the Federation's desire for a cloak.

Absolute worst case, the Federation reverse-engineers it. How bad is that? Not so bad. First, the Federation has always had the chops to develop their own, and has probably done so in secret - peeking probably wouldn't tell the Feds anything they didn't already know. Merely watching how much the Feds try to peek will tell you a lot about what the Feds do know (or don't). Second, aside from this little adventure in the Delta Quadrant, the Federation is likely to stay with their "We don't want cloaks" policy, so the risk is moot.

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