There are many territorial areas and governmental bodies in Star Trek:

  • The United Federation of Planets
  • The Klingon Empire
  • The Romulan Empire
  • The Ferengi Alliance
  • The Dominion

and probably a host of others I'm forgetting about.

So what word do the people in Star Trek use to refer to these groupings? Nation, Federation or Union all seem common but only to refer to specific territorial/governmental bodies. They also seem quite out of place when referring to other bodies (the Klingons aren't a Federation, etc).

I would strongly prefer an in-universe answer, if one exists.


4 Answers 4


In DS9: The Search (Part 2), the fake Admiral Alynna Nechayev refers to the groupings in the Alpha Quadrant as "Alliances":

NECHAYEV: They're already meeting with representatives from the Federation Council and a dozen other Alpha Quadrant alliances. We're hoping to have a treaty signed within a matter of days, and we have you to thank for it.

SISKO: Actually it's Lieutenant Dax and Chief O'Brien who deserve most of the credit.

The fake Romulan ambassador refers to them as "Great Powers" in the same episode:

BASHIR: I wasn't aware the Romulans had been excluded.

T'RUL: Every great power in the Alpha Quadrant has been invited to participate except for us.

BASHIR: There must be some mistake.

Odo also refers to them as such in DS9 : Inquisition:

BASHIR: I can't believe the Federation condones this kind of activity.

ODO: Personally, I find it hard to believe they wouldn't. Every other great power has a unit like Section thirty one. The Romulans have the Tal Shiar, the Cardassians had the Obsidian Order.

BASHIR: But what does that say about us? When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?

And so does Jaro in DS9: The Circle:

KIRA: How can you betray your own government?

JARO: Major, I don't have to tell you. I've heard your opinion of this government. Government. They can't even agree it is a government, so they call it provisional. It's just another word for powerless. I won't allow the Bajoran people to be powerless any more. We have been doormats to the Cardassians and now the Federation. Any great power that happens by. We will not be that again. We are a people who brought art and architecture to countless planets. We don't deserve to be victims.

In DS9: Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, Sloan simply refers to them as "powers":

SLOAN: To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that. I say that because when the war is over, the following will happen in short order. The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won't pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.

as does Kirk in TOS: A Private Little War:

KIRK: Bones, do you remember the twentieth century brush wars on the Asian continent? Two giant powers involved, much like the Klingons and ourselves. Neither side felt could pull out.

MCCOY: Yes, I remember. It went on bloody year after bloody year.

You may also wish to note that the (fully canon) Star Trek Encyclopedia refers to them throughout as the Alpha Quadrant powers, for example in this potted history of the Dominion War:

The war continued badly for the Alpha Quadrant powers until later in that year when the Romulan Star Empire abrogated its nonaggression treaty with the Dominion. A massive assault by Federation, Klingon, and Romulan forces that captured the Chin'toka System from Cardassian control represented a major turning point in the war. Nevertheless, aided by Breen forces and sophisticated Breen weaponry, the Dominion overwhelmed the Alpha Quadrant powers, despite the fact that a deadly virus was infecting the Great Link. This biological weapon, a genetically engineered disease developed by the Federation's Section 31, nearly wiped out the Founders. Despite an overwhelmingly powerful military force, the Dominion began to lose ground when the Alpha Quadrant powers developed the means to defend against Breen technology

It also tends to refers to them (individually) as "nations":

Klingon Neutral Zone : A no-man's-land between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. Passage into the zone by ships of either nation was forbidden by treaty. The Klingon Neutral Zone was abolished in 2293 by the Khitomer Accords

Romulan Star Empire. : The formal name of the Romulan nation. An enigmatic offshoot of the Vulcan civilization, now residing on planets Romulus and Remus

  • 2
    Great power is the technical international relations term for a polity that can exercise power globally, such as the United States currently, or the British Empire historically. Superpower is not a recognised term, it is simply a hangover from WWII, and sounds cool. Presumably that would be a polity capable of exercising power over the quadrant in Star Trek. Again, it doesn't explain the Ferengi. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 11:43
  • @JamesSheridan - Except that at no time does anyone in any of the series refer to them as such. Although it's arguable that that's what they are, we can only go on what's actually said.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 13:00
  • 3
    @Richard: I upvoted your answer, for thoroughness and for directly answering OP. :-)
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 13:36
  • the ferangi are essentially a neutral trade conglomerate. Similar to the East india trading company, while they have a fleet, its essentially used to further their trade. they don't hold the same kind of power as the federation,klingons, or romulans.
    – Himarm
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 14:28
  • 1
    @Himarm - And are always referred to as the Ferengi Alliance. They do have a military though.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 14:33

They are polities:


n. pl. polities

1. The form of government of a nation, state, church, or organization.

2. An organized society, such as a nation, having a specific form of government. "Hs alien philosophy found no roots in the American polity." (New York Times)

It is the second definition you are specifically looking for. Any state, regardless of its system of government, is described as a polity. Even lesser entities within states, such as individual provinces and cities, are described as polities. It covers all the bases you need in Star Trek.

There is no in-universe answer, but you don't really need one. This is more of a language and terminology issue than a Star Trek one. You could also get by calling all the entities you describe above as a state, specifically definition 4d:

A body politic, especially one comprising a nation: the states of Eastern Europe.

The use of 'state' as a definition for polities in Star Trek probably breaks down when discussing species like the Borg, or even the Hirogen, however, whereas polity still has it covered.

  • 1
    Alternatively, power, "a state or country, especially one viewed in terms of its international influence and military strength."
    – Junuxx
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 2:21
  • @Junuxx: That definitely describes four of the five examples. It would be a struggle to describe the Swiss arms dealers of the Alpha Quadrany, the Ferengi, as a power. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 3:35
  • I rather like "body politic" and think it could stand on its own as an answer. "We can say the following about the bodies politic present in Star Trek..." Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 13:05
  • 1
    I downvoted. This doesn't answer the question of what they're called "in Star Trek" (e.g. in-universe).
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 13:11
  • For the record, the word polity is used zero times in the various trek TV series and films.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 7:55

There is no consistent or official in-universe term.

That being said, one might describe them as superpowers. They are the Star Trek Universe analogues of the superpowers that vied for dominance on 20th Century Earth (e.g. the USA and the USSR).

Calling the Federation and the Klingon Empire "superpowers" properly distinguishes them from lesser powers in the Alpha and Beta quadrants, such as the Breen Confederacy. (For that matter, the Ferengi Alliance might also be ranked as a lesser power, compared to the others listed by the OP.)

The phrase "Alpha Quadrant powers" was used on an occasion in DS9 (but only colloquially) to describe the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Star Empire.

  • 1
    They're more similar to the European Pentarchy that flourished from 1814-1914, really. I doubt that was intentional on the writers' part. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 3:39
  • 1
    Point taken. I should say, I believe Nick Meyer and Leonard Nimoy were inspired by the USA / USSR Cold War and its resolution when they came up with the concept behind Star Trek VI. Arguably, the events of that film have had a formative role in the "politics" of the Alpha Quadrant.
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 4:04
  • Almost certainly. D.C. Fontana also described the Romulans and Klingons as "Russians and Chinese" at least once. DS9 and the portrayal of the Cardassians certainly added to the political complexity of the series. To its benefit I might add, at least in my eyes. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 4:31
  • 1
    Superpower sounds good, especially as for roleplaying-purposes, I often tag the relevant empires/groups/whatever just under "powers in alpha/beta/surrounding space", which then covers single planets as well as groups as large as the Federation just fine :).
    – Layna
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 12:29

I've thought a great deal about this; how to rank the main political powers of Trek using our current definitions in international politics: superpowers, great powers, regional powers, and minor powers. Wikipedia provides a good article on the power hierarchy in international politics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_%28international_relations%29#Categories_of_Power

The Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Dominion would likely be ranked as superpowers as they have large amounts of economic, military, political, and cultural power. Their territories are vast and they're also are capable of projecting their power well beyond their borders.

The Romulan Star Empire and the Breen Confederacy would be considered great powers. They don't necessarily possess the full military and economic reach of the superpowers, but they can still project their influence throughout the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

I think the Cardassian Union would likely be ranked as a regional power aspiring to great power status. I say this because, from what we've seen in the TV series, Cardassia appears to only have influence in the region immediately surrounding its territory. It is also hinted that Cardassia is limited in natural resources and thus has a poor economy. The only time we've seen Cardassia project power far beyond its borders was during its failed attack on the Dominion (which was only possible with Romulan help). Cardassia became a great threat during the Dominion War, but only because it was propped up by Dominion reinforcements.

Smaller polities such as the Ferengi Alliance, Talarian Republic, and the Gorn Hegemony would be best described as minor or middle powers. They can stand on their own without outside help, but can't project much power beyond their territories.

  • 2
    Although you're largely correct, this answer doesn't address what they're referred to as 'in-universe' (e.g by the characters themselves).
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 5:38
  • Yeah, it tends to be all over the place depending on which series you're watching. The most common reference I've heard 'in-universe' is either great power or Alpha Quadrant power. But then that opens a whole other can of worms as to which quadrant Romulus and Qo'nos occupy, seeing as most published maps place them squarely in the Beta Quadrant.
    – Trekfan91
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 17:39
  • There's a whole host of quotes about the desire of the writing staff to not confuse watchers by mentioning the Beta quadrant.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 17:45
  • 1
    Could you give me some links to these quotes? I assume you're referring to the writers of DS9 since the characters in that series consistently call them the "Alpha Quadrant powers". It makes sense to limit fan confusion and I never really understood why the official maps have Earth sitting on the Alpha/Beta border.
    – Trekfan91
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 2:39
  • One example
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 5:57

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