In the "captain's log" exposition of Discovery Season Three episode five, Saru says "Federation and Starfleet headquarters: Separate entities that must now abide together."

What is he talking about? Isn't Starfleet a function of the Federation? In the tags for this question, 'starfleet-command' was marked with "In the Star Trek universe, Starfleet is the interstellar fleet of ships and personnel maintained by the United Federation of Planets. Use this with the [star-trek] tag." So, color me confused.

  • 2
    I'm no expert on Trek lore, but my impression was always that Starfleet is an Earth-based (or human-based) organization. Spock was the first vulcan in Starfleet, IIRC, but clearly he's not the first vulcan to serve on a star ship, generally. The Federation, on the other hand, is an interplanetary union of multiple alien nations, of which humans are one.
    – Steve-O
    Nov 13, 2020 at 14:27
  • 1
    But, also earth based, right? Starfleet was based in San Francisco, if I recall correctly. Wasn't the Federation also based there? Nov 13, 2020 at 14:30
  • 8
    I've always operated on the assumption that saying "the Federation" is like saying "the United States", and saying "Starfleet" is like saying "the Navy" or (in the case of "Starfleet Command") "the Pentagon". IOW, "the Federation" is the political entity, and "Starfleet" is the military organization that operates under the auspices of "the Federation". Nov 13, 2020 at 14:48
  • 3
    @Steve-O: I'm not sure that is correct. The series Enterprise, set before the foundation of the Federation, specifically used the term Earth Starfleet throughout the series, the point apparently being to set this early, Earth-based starfleet apart from the Starfleet of later series, which is entirely and exclusively a branch of the Federation. Nov 13, 2020 at 16:23
  • 6
    iirc Federation HQ is in Paris. Think I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower in the background through a window during a scene in the President's Office Nov 13, 2020 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


The Federation and Starfleet are two separate entities.

The Federation is a civilian government and a democracy that unites several planets under a singular banner (a similar concept is the European Union). This makes them independent governments that are united in a political block for trade/technology sharing. The Federation might have been founded on Earth but it was founded by several species working together.

Starfleet is a "Military" organization that predates the federation. It was created by earth as their form of space navy to protect Earth. And after the Federation was founded they extended their protection to member states of the federation. The federation member worlds do supply technology and crew to the Federation but are not obliged to do so. This is why some members of the Federation still maintain their own fleet/defense forces and why Starfleet is predominantly human. This is also the reason why the Federation fleet is based on the human designed ships and not for example the Andorian/Vulcans who had superior ships compared to earth during the federations founding.

In DS-9 for example some members of Starfleet wanted to do a coup towards the Federation. Thinking that civilian leadership would not be strong enough to protect the federation worlds from the Dominion. And although Starfleet operates mainly independent it does have to obey the rule of law of the Federation and high-ranking federation members do have a lot of sway within Starfleet but in the end of the day it's Starfleet that makes the military decisions.

  • 3
    I'm glad you put military in scare quotes; scifi.stackexchange.com/a/54168/20774
    – Valorum
    Nov 13, 2020 at 15:27
  • 2
    Federation capital was shown to be in Paris in STVI and DS9 iirc
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 13, 2020 at 15:30
  • @Valorum that's why I did it, same reason I would call the Defiant a "war" ship. They both serve a purpose but under a more peaceful guise
    – A.bakker
    Nov 13, 2020 at 15:34
  • I don't think his intent was "scare quotes", but rather an acknowledgement of Starfleet's quasi-military nature, that is, it's organized along military lines but not with traditionally military goals and purposes. Nov 13, 2020 at 15:59
  • "high-ranking federation members do have a lot of sway within Starfleet but in the end of the day it's Starfleet that makes the military decisions" - not sure how this is meant; [Memory Alpha]memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Starfleet#Federation_Starfleet) says: "Starfleet operations were regulated solely by Starfleet Command, answering to the Federation President and the Federation Council" Nov 13, 2020 at 16:29

It's important to remember the context of Discovery Season 3


Starfleet is to the Federation as the military is to whatever country launched them. That sponsoring country provides personnel, supplies, ships, shipyards, etc. So the United States military is funded by the United States. It's not a separate entity.

The we have The Federation. It's not states, but worlds, and these worlds are separated by vast differences. As Burnham notes, it's about "their shared vision". The Federation supported Starfleet, turning it into the entity we've seen in the 23rd and 24th centuries.

The problem Starfleet has is "The Burn", which destroyed virtually all the the ships of Starfleet and made dilithium exceptionally rare. As such, Starfleet is now cut off from most of the worlds that comprise the Federation without any apparent way to build ships or replenish dilithium. In fact, we see that they can't even keep their subspace relays operational. Starfleet is simply struggling to survive as an entity itself. This fits with what we're told by Book in S3E1, that the Federation just basically fell apart without starships in general to keep it together. We saw that again in S3E4, where Earth is now an autonomous (and somewhat xenophobic) government.

As such, without support from The Federation in any meaningful way, Starfleet became its own entity: a quasi-military entity without a mission beyond survival. What Saru means at the end is that Starfleet is now going to have to accept the ideals of The Federation again if it hopes to survive.

  • 1
    "The Federation founded and supported Starfleet." Starfleet was founded somewhere in the 2130's. The Federation was founded in 2161.
    – A.bakker
    Nov 13, 2020 at 15:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.