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I've watched all of the Original Series and The Next Generation, and bits of Deep Space 9 and Voyager, all of the movies, but none of the more recent series, or the books. In all of the material I've seen, events tend to mostly focus on Starfleet (understandable, in that the action takes place on Starfleet ships/stations, and the main characters are Starfleet officers). I'm curious how the non-military, non-exploratory parts of the Federation government work.

Clearly, there are individual planetary governments, and some kind of federal government "on top of" that. Does each planetary government send delegates to some central governing body? Do they get population-based representation, one vote per planet, or what? Does the Federation have a "security council" like the United Nations, where some members are "more equal than others"?

What is the Federation government charged with? They're in charge of scientific exploration/defense (via Starfleet), but what else do they do?

I've read the Memory Alpha page on the Federation, and it's very vague, mostly just references to government bureaus or departments that are off-hand mentioned in one episode or another. I figured there might be sources with more detail - like the Enterprise series, which I gather has to do with the early period of the Federation, or maybe in another medium altogether.

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    I know the humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites have slightly more standing than others, since they founded the Federation, but I'm pretty certain that's more courtesy than anything else. – Izkata Jan 8 '14 at 3:25
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  • @muistooshort, I did read the memory-alpha article, but it was unsurprisingly light on detail. Mostly just links to one-paragraph descriptions of events from various episodes. Maybe that's all there is? – Mark Bessey Jan 8 '14 at 3:43
  • @MarkBessey Pretty much. As it says in the blurb at that link, The exact nature of the government of the Federation has never been made clear on screen. and The exact division of powers between the Federation government and the governments of its member worlds is unknown – Izkata Jan 8 '14 at 3:50
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    We know that the Federation was founded the year after the Earth-Romulus War ended, and have a very generalised, rough outline of how it operates. That's it. To my knowledge, no canon source, nor ambiguously-canon novels and comics, has offered any elucidation as to the exact nature of the Federation's federal system. Presumably the Federation handles foreign policy and defence, but individual members handle their own worlds/ colonies. The relationship between member-worlds and their colonies has also never been explored adequately. – James Sheridan Jan 8 '14 at 6:46
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The Starfleet Technical Manual contains a complete copy of the "Articles of Federation" that were agreed by the original members of the United Federation of Planets on Stardate 0965.

Although this book is generally considered 'non-canon', material from it has been used in several episodes of TNG, Trek films and throughout DS9 and Voyager.

As you can see, the Federation Charter is very heavily modeled on the United Nations Charter.

I'll paraphrase the main points;

Primary Articles

0) The primary purpose of the United Federation of Planets (UFP) is the mutual pursuit of peace as well as cultural, financial, humanitarian and social interaction.

0.1) The UFP will not intervene in "matters which are essentially the domestic jurisdiction of any planetary social system"

0.2) The UFP is based on the Sovereign Equality of all of its members.

1) Membership of the Federation is subject to the unanimous agreement of the Supreme Assembly.

2) The Supreme Assembly of the Federation can temporarily or permanently remove UFP membership.

3) The main bodies of the UFP are; The Supreme Assembly, The Federation Council, The Economic and Social Council, The Interplanetary Court of Justice, The Star Fleet and the Secretariat.

Supreme Assembly

1) The Supreme Council consists of all members of the UFP and is responsible for the "peaceful adjustment" of any situation involving UFP members, managing the budget of the UFP and promoting mutual cooperation between UFP members.

2) The expense of the UFP is borne by all members, as apportioned by the Supreme Assembly.

3) Each planet has one vote on the Supreme Assembly.

4) Supreme Assembly unanimity is required for decisions regarding UFP membership, suspension and expulsion as well as setting and apportioning the budget of the UFP.

5) The Supreme Assembly will vote for a 'President of the Supreme Assembly' each session

Federation Council

1) The Federation Council will consist of 11 members.

2) There are 5 permanent members of the Federation Council; Earth, The Planetary Confederation of 40 Eridani, the United Planets of 61 Cygni, The Star Empire of Epsilon Indii and the Alpha Centauri Concordium of Planets.

3) All other members of the UFP will periodically take seats on the Federation Council

4) The Federation Council is responsible for prompt action regarding interplanetary security (including the prosecution of sanctions, blockades and the severance of diplomatic relations) unless explicitly over-ridden by a unanimous vote of the Supreme Assembly.

Trusteeship Council

1) The Trusteeship Council will accept and arbitrate on petitions and disputes involving UFP members.

Star Fleet

1) "There is established an Star Fleet as an armed peace-keeping force of the UFP".

2) The Star Fleet is permanently under the control of the Federation Council.

3) The Star Fleet is to be used for scientific exploration when not being used for the purposes of maintaining interplanetary peace.

Economic + Social Council

1) The Economic council will aim to secure higher standards of living, full employment and fundamental freedoms for all UFP Citizens

2) UFP members agree to fundamentally accept the rights of all intelligent lifeforms regardless of gender, culture, language or religion.

3) UFP members should act as "good neighbours" toward non-UFP members in outlying regions.

Articles of Federation

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    Worth noting that this book wasn't created by anyone involved in production, but by a technical artist named Franz Joseph who started it as an exercise to help Trek fans he knew with model-building, and after it became popular Paramount licensed it (story here). The "background information" section of the Memory Alpha article says "this book is now considered to be non-canonical", although it notes some starship designs from the book later were mentioned or appeared on display screens in the movies. – Hypnosifl Oct 8 '14 at 4:09
  • @hypnosifl - As a licensed property, I tend to err on the side of caution, canon until contradicted. Since elements of the constitution have been included in epidodes, it's not contradicted. – Valorum Oct 8 '14 at 10:25
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    Do you have access to the book Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years? This was commissioned by CBS rather than something independently created which Paramount just retroactively approved, and the author David Goodman was a writer for Enterprise, so I think it would be closer to "official", and it might have info on the political structure. One of the images on Amazon shows the first page of the "Articles of Federation" which differ from those in the tech manual. – Hypnosifl Oct 8 '14 at 16:38
  • @Hypnosifl - I'm just tracking it down. It seems a lot more heavily influenced by the US constitution. – Valorum Oct 8 '14 at 19:12
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The other answers don't address the basic question of whether the Federation is a democracy, so I just wanted to point out that in the TOS episode "Errand of Mercy", we do get confirmation that it is, in the following exchange between Captain Kirk and Klingon Commander Kor:

KIRK: Something was destroyed? Nothing inconsequential, I hope.

KOR: Hardly. They were quite important to us, but they can be replaced. You of the Federation, you are much like us.

KIRK: We're nothing like you. We're a democratic body.

And in the Deep Space Nine episode "Once More Unto The Breach", we meet with an aged Kor, who tells Worf "Worf, you've been living among this democratic rabble for too long", which seems to indicate the Federation is still democratic in this period.

In addition, we know from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that the Federation had a deliberative body called the "Federation Council":

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The Memory Alpha article mentions a number of episodes that have referenced this Council. In the Deep Space Nine episode "Homefront" it was confirmed that the Federation President at the time, Jaresh-Inyo, had been elected to the position:

JARESH-INYO: I never sought this job. I was content to simply represent my people on the Federation Council. When they asked me to submit my name for election, I almost said no. Today I wish I had.

And in the Deep Space Nine episode "Paradise Lost" when Admiral Leyton hoped to oust Jaresh-Inyo and give Starfleet direct command of the Federation, Sisko objected that this would make the Federation into a military dictatorship, which seems to indicate that under the existing system Starfleet was under the command of elected leaders:

SISKO: Admiral, do you realise what's going on here? Even if you win, even if you do manage to oust Jaresh-Inyo, you still lose. We all lose.

LEYTON: I can't say I agree with you.

SISKO: Do you think other Federation worlds are going to sit back and let their President be replaced by a military dictatorship?

LEYTON: Hardly a dictatorship, Ben.

SISKO: Overthrowing a legitimately elected President and giving Starfleet direct control over the government? It sounds like a dictatorship to me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks so.

The Next Generation episode "The Perfect Mate" also gives onscreen confirmation that the Federation is a constitutional democracy, with provisions for the "fundamental rights" of individuals, which precluded treating sentient beings as property:

RIKER: You mean you're using this ship to transport a sentient being as property?

BRIAM: Not as property, as a gift, and I was concerned that you might not entirely understand.

PICARD: Your concern was justified, Ambassador.

KAMALA: You're angry. Why?

PICARD: There is a provision in the Federation Constitution that protects an individual's fundamental rights.

In the TNG episode "The Drumhead" we learn that another "fundamental principle" of the Constitution was the "Seventh Guarantee", which apparently dealt with the right to refuse to answer certain questions in court:

WORF: But we know there is a traitor here. J'Dan has admitted his guilt.

PICARD: That's true, and he will stand for his crimes.

WORF: Tarses has all but done the same.

PICARD: How?

WORF: He refused to answer the question about his Romulan grandfather.

PICARD: That is not a crime, Worf. Nor can we infer his guilt because he didn't respond.

WORF: Sir, if a man were not afraid of the truth, he would answer.

PICARD: Oh, no. We cannot allow ourselves think that. The Seventh Guarantee is one of the most important rights granted by the Federation. We cannot take a fundamental principle of the Constitution and turn it against a citizen.

When the Federation was first founded in 2161, a document called the Charter of the United Federation of Planets was ratified (not to be confused with the Starfleet Charter, since as noted above they are distinct organizations). The Memory Alpha article comments on the uncertain relation between the Charter and the Constitution:

The relationship between the Constitution of the United Federation of Planets and the Federation Charter is unclear. Both contain rights for individuals; as Sisko put it in DS9: "Accession": "caste-based discrimination goes against the Federation Charter". It is most likely that the Charter describes the requirements for entry of a planet into the Federation (e.g., no entry if caste-based discrimination is in place), while the Constitution describes the principles, governing structure, and citizen rights once becoming a member (e.g., rights against self-incrimination).

Part of the Charter was visible in the Voyager episode "The Void", and the Memory Alpha article notes that it's a rewording of the United Nations charter (as are the "Articles of Federation" from the non-canon-but-influential Star Fleet Technical Manual quoted in @Valorum's answer):

CHARTER OF THE UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS

"We the lifeforms of the United Federation of Planets determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to reaffirm faith in the fundamental rights of sentient beings, in the dignity and worth of all lifeforms, in the equal rights of members of planetary systems large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of interstellar law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of living on all worlds..."

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    For the record, while the Federation Council is a democracy, the individual planets, planetary federations and stellar empires that make up the Federation are free to elect (or appoint) their representative however they see fit. That presumably includes not using democratic systems. – Valorum Jun 12 '16 at 18:40
  • @Valorum - Good point--it could be like the U.N. in that sense, although given the respect shown for democratic values by human characters, I think it's likely that at least the Earth officials were democratically elected. – Hypnosifl Jun 12 '16 at 18:54
  • Oh, definitely. In Enterprise we see that there are "Ministers", implying some sort of democratic parliament. – Valorum Jun 12 '16 at 19:04
  • @Valorum: ""Ministers", implying some sort of democratic parliament" - "The Premier represents the government and functions independently. His authority extends over two vice-premiers, 30 ministers (...)". – O. R. Mapper Jun 12 '16 at 20:13
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    @O.R.Mapper - I assume you're right about the out-of-universe explanation, but in-universe perhaps we could imagine that being a Starfleet official is one of the most well-regarded jobs one can have in the post-scarcity society of the Federation, so that voters tend to elect people from Starfleet, and no one sees anything untoward about Starfleet officers wearing their uniforms when doing their duties as members of the Council. – Hypnosifl Jun 12 '16 at 21:17
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A big clue into their form of government is the fact that they have no monetary policy. They have no money, which means they have no taxes, no expenditures, and no GDP. That raises the question, how do they finance their government? Regardless of what form that government takes, it needs resources to maintain itself.

Given the peace-oriented nature of the Federation, one would assume that those resources are given to the government voluntarily, including human resources in the form of political leadership. People volunteer their leadership in order to be accepted, rejected, or passively allowed, all in a non-forceful manner.

However the relinquishing of Maquis worlds in the Demilitarized Zone to the Cardassians makes one question the extent to which property rights are respected in the Federation. Perhaps there is some coercive system of resource appropriation that finances the government, implying another coercive system to administer it, such as majority rule or some other form of fiat.

Then again the Maquis may not be a property rights issue as much as it is a strategic issue between allied powers at war. The Maquis could be likened to abandoned allies rather than "citizens" as we understand the term.

So it may be fruitful not to think of the Federation as a government at all, but rather a loosely knit alliance of worlds that happens to align under a common understanding of non-intervention, non-interference, and peaceful exchange.

  • My answer specifically speaks to finance. All UFP members agree to bear their fair share of the costs of running the Assembly and Star fleet. – Valorum Jan 9 '14 at 13:09
  • I don't see where. Yours is a fine answer and directly addresses the political question, but I've been puzzled by Federation economics for a very long time, so I chose to answer from that angle. – AtlasMickey Jan 10 '14 at 0:09
  • It says that the expense of the UFP is borne by all members. The full wording is; "The Supreme Assembly shall consider and approve the budget of the United Federation of Planets; The Expenses of the United Federation of Planets shall be borne by the members as apportioned by the Supreme Assembly; The Supreme Assembly shall consider and approve any financial and budgetary arrangements[snip]; All budgets of, and expenses of the United Federation shall be made and paid in the Common Interplanetary Credit which shall be the official medium of exchange within [UFP Territory]" – Valorum Jan 10 '14 at 18:10
  • I see where the first part of your reply can be found under the article "Supreme Assembly" but as for the second half of your reply, I still do not see it, especially the part where you mention expenses made and paid in the "Common Interplanetary Credit which shall be the official medium of exchange within [UFP Territory]." That pretty much blows the door off all I knew about Star Trek, which is that there is no official medium of exchange. Nonetheless, your answer does say that expenses are born by all members as apportioned by the Supreme Assembly, but by unanimity or majority? Who knows? – AtlasMickey Jan 13 '14 at 11:54
  • You have to remember that we don't see the early years of the Federation, we see the creation of the Federation and then spin forward nearly a hundred years to the events of Star Trek TOS. During that period, the UFP clearly encouraged the use of replicators and basically did away with the need for currency of any kind. As to how the Supreme Assembly makes decisions about finance, each planetary body gets one vote for each of their planets, up to a maximum of 5. Decisions about finance are made unanimously – Valorum Jan 13 '14 at 19:25
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To the best of my understanding, in TOS, the Federation of Planets was loosely based on the United Nations, with Earth the basic equivalent of the United States. The Klingons were the Russians, the Vulcan were Japanese, and the Romulans were the Chinese. This was borne out to some degree in DS9, with the Cardassians playing the role of Germans -- World War II era -- and the Bajorans as occupied France.

Check out Kirk reciting the pledge in the Omega Glory.

  • you should post the link to the reciting or quotes it yourself – Rocket Jan 20 '15 at 6:35
  • I don't understand. Do you mean a link to the Omega Glory or the Pledge of Allegiance that Kirk recited? It's the same pledge we did in school. – Glenn Wohltmann Jan 20 '15 at 6:59
  • Check out Kirk reciting the pledge in the Omega Glory I wont check this out... YOU have to answer the question.. there is a good example of a good answer here.. and you can also take the tour or visit the help center or even come see us on Mos Eisly Science Fiction & Fantasy Chat – Rocket Jan 20 '15 at 7:02
  • The preamble of the Federation Charter (quoted in other answers) appears to have been modeled directly on that of the UN Charter: un.org/en/sections/un-charter/preamble/index.html – zwol Jun 27 '16 at 22:20
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The Federation is a democracy, although one where Starfleet seems to have a great deal of influence (why are Starfleet admirals sitting on the Federation Council, which is ostensibly a civilian body?) The novel Articles of the Federation goes into greater detail on how the civilian side of the Federation government operates from the viewpoint of President Bacco and her aides.

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