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A few days ago I watched "Aquiel" (episode 6x13 of Star Trek The Next Generation). I noticed a line spoken by governor Torak where he claims that he found Aquiel Uhnari's escape pod wandering around and "she was lucky he didn't destroy her".

I recall similar threats from the Klingon side towards the Federation in many previous episodes. How should we understand this? The Klingon Empire has a peace treaty with the Federation and therefore is its ally. It is impossible to imagine (at least to me) that one side of a peace treaty will attack another one, right? So, are these threats some kind of Klingon nature, style, culture or way of life1, and therefore can be easily "ignored"? Or are these real and serious?

1 For example: you tell your best friend that you're going to kill him, at least once per week, so he can feel your friendship is warm, right? Somehow, I can't imagine one member of NATO treating another one this way. Or any similar ally example.

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    “The Klingon Empire is a part of Federation” — nope. They’re separate and vaguely equivalent galactic powers. You’re quite right that during most of The Next Generation period there’s a peace treaty between them, but the Klingons didn’t join the Federation. – Paul D. Waite Jan 21 '15 at 12:55
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    well, it changes the line “The Klingon Empire is a part of Federation”. And you can tell someone you’ve got a peace treaty with that you’re going to kill them, it just means you’re dissolving the peace treaty. – Paul D. Waite Jan 21 '15 at 14:19
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    "The Klingon Empire has a peace treaty with the Federation and therefore is its ally" That's not how a peace treaty works. Having a peace treaty does not mean you are someone's ally, it just means that you are at peace with each other. For instance, the US has a peace treaty with China, but neither countries are allies. – Robert Jan 21 '15 at 15:18
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    @PaulD.Waite An aside, for where that may have come from, in TNG 2x17 Wesley does say "before the Klingons joined the Federation" even though it never happened. I think it's just usually taken as Wesley being confused. – Izkata Jan 22 '15 at 0:43
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    @Robert: Not necessarily, though it is rare. It was hardly unusual, for example, for Nazi Germany to threaten dire consequences to their own allies if they didn't obey edicts from Berlin, with the kidnapping of Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy's son as the most egregious example. Germany was also on very friendly terms with Poland until approximately three seconds before they invaded them. Same with the USSR, actually. But Nazi Germany is obviously an extreme example. For the most part, you're right. – James Sheridan Jan 22 '15 at 23:49
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I'm sorry, but the Klingon Empire is most assuredly NOT part of the Federation; if they were, how could the two go to war with each other in DS9? They are allied, but this does not imply that the Klingons are members of the Federation. If they were, they wouldn't have such a huge star fleet, for one thing, nor could they launch wars of aggression against Cardassia without Federation acquiescence.

Secondly, the exchange is hardly unusual in Federation-Klingon diplomacy. It was said by George Kennan, former secretary to the US Ambassador to Moscow - and later the US National Security Advisor, I believe - that the Soviet Union only understood negotiation from a position of strength. If you asked them nicely for something, they would promise to give it some thought, then do nothing. But if you simply told them what you wanted, and backed it with the threat of force, they would probably give it to you. This happened when the US threatened to intervene in Iran in 1946, the US refusal to allow a joint occupation of Japan, and the Berlin Airlift. The US did not apply pressure over Poland, so the Soviets therefore didn't budge.

The same is true of the Klingons. They are clearly a militaristic culture, and negotiating from a position of weakness would only invite their contempt. Threatening them, even non-seriously, was the best way to ensure their co-operation. In "Unification I," Captain Picard asked the Klingons for a Bird-of-Prey to infiltrate Romulan space, telling Gowron's representative "you will have our gratitude. If you don't supply the vessel, I'm sure others in the Empire will, and they will have our gratitude." This is a very blunt threat to back another side in the fluid politics of Klingon society, where Gowron had only just emerged Chancellor after a bloody civil war.

Such threats work both ways. Gowron routinely refused to consider returning Cardassian or Federation territory even after the Klingons allied with the Federation against the Dominion. Martok expressed contempt for Cardassians and humans even though he stood amongst the corpses of Cardassians whose rebellion against the Dominion had ensured the Federation Alliance's victory. Worf's brother, Kurn, threatened to kill Riker during "Sins of the Father." This is simply how Klingon society seems to treat negotiations.

  • “how could the two go to war with each other in DS9” — spoilers! – Paul D. Waite Jan 21 '15 at 12:55
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    Perfect answer with a lot of real-world examples. Thank you. @PaulD.Waite -- assuming, I haven't seen DS9 yet, you're 200% sure! :> – trejder Jan 21 '15 at 14:08
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    Political considerations aside, it was also common for Klingon captains to use space debris for target practice. They could have easily shot the pod without bothering to scan it for life-forms first. – Omegacron Jan 21 '15 at 16:40
  • Did you really call spoilers on a show from 20 years ago? ;) – BBlake Jan 21 '15 at 23:25
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    @BBlake: People on this site call spoilers from 50 years ago. – James Sheridan Jan 22 '15 at 5:03
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This is a bit speculative and baseless, but my impression is that both interpretations are true.

Klingons will make threats far more freely than Starfleet officers would, and many of them won’t be intended to be followed up with action.

But at the same time, the Klingons would be more likely to actually dissolve the peace treaty with the Federation (or have an individual ship captain ignore it) than the Federation would, so at least some of their threats could well be carried out if the situation doesn’t get resolved to the Klingon’s satisfaction.

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