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In TOS episode: "Mirror, Mirror"

KIRK: The illogic of waste, Mister Spock. The waste of lives, potential, resources, time. I submit to you that your Empire is illogical because it cannot endure. I submit that you are illogical to be a willing part of it.

SPOCK: You have one minute and twenty three seconds.

KIRK: If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial, doesn't logic demand that you be a part of it?

SPOCK: One man cannot summon the future.

KIRK: But one man can change the present.

Then:

KIRK: What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or freedom? It's up to you.

SPOCK: It is time.

KIRK: In every revolution, there's one man with a vision.

SPOCK: Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.

In DS9 episode: "Crossover" Evil Kira:

INTENDANT: Interesting. On my side, Kirk is one the most famous names in our history. Almost a century ago, a Terran starship Captain named James Kirk accidentally exchanged places with his counterpart from your side due to a transporter accident. Our Terrans were barbarians then, but their Empire was strong. While your Kirk was on this side, he met a Vulcan named Spock and somehow had a profound influence on him. Afterwards, Spock rose to Commander in Chief of the Empire by preaching reforms, disarmament, peace. It was quite a remarkable turnabout for his people. Unfortunately for them, when Spock had completed all these reforms, his empire was no longer in any position to defend itself against us.

If Kirk and Spock's belief is that tyranny will lead to self destruction, and they believe that it's inevitable that the Federation will fall unless it reforms and becomes peaceful, why does it fall after becoming peaceful? Why does peace and reform necessarily result in weakness?

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    More of an aside than an answer but: Just because our side promotes freedom and peace but still has the technology to go toe-to-toe doesn't mean the other side followed the exact same path. They had been a ruthless Empire for decades, maybe there were races that didn't believe they had 'changed' and refused to sign up with the 'new and improved' Federation. Maybe there were bitter rivalries that never got sorted out (for example, Klingons) meaning we always had to keep an eye on our flanks). Any number of things could've contributed to the fall of the Empire – Robotnik May 21 '15 at 4:58
  • @Robotnik: Pretty good answer, tbh – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 3 '15 at 13:00
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The core question ("Why does peace and reform necessarily result in weakness?") isn't exclusively sci-fi so to speak and is somewhat opinion-based, but I'll bite anyway. As far as Star Trek is concerned, I don't think there is a canonical answer that goes deeper than the quotes that are already in the question, but here is some reasonable speculation:

In a time of peace, leaders may spend less time and resources on defense and military infrastructure and more on public works and services.

By the time Kira's people came around, the Terran Empire's armaments and tactics may have been out of date and mothballed in favour of better technologies for the masses (e.g. improved medical facilities, industrial replicators). Their military may have been no match for the onslaught they were about to face.

We can find a parallel in the "positive universe": one might observe that the Federation had enjoyed many decades of peace before its costly war with the Dominion — a war that the Federation was quite unprepared for and which tested some of the very principles upon which the Federation had been founded. Perhaps if the Khitomer Conference had not happened and the Federation had remained locked in at least a cold war with the Klingons for 80 more years, the Federation may have developed technological capabilities for battle that would have seen the Dominion repelled much more quickly and with less cost.

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There are several possible explanations for that:

Out of universe:

  • There is no straight path from tyranny to democracy. Modern democracies evolved for several hundred of years before reaching the current state (which is also the model for the government of the Federation in Star Trek).

  • Usually the fall of an autocratic/tyrannic regime weakens the country externally. Mostly due to the fact that a tyrant would sacrifice the well being of his/her people, just to win a war - there is no need to think about the chances of being re-elected afterwards :)

In universe

  • In TNG "Yesterday's Enterprise" episode we see the Federation actually losing the war against the Klingons. As it turns out the only thing that prevented this loss was the Enterprise C intervention in the Klingon-Romulan conflict on the side of the Klingons.
  • As far as I remember the mirror Federation fell to the Klingon-Cardasian alliance. There was no such alliance formed in the "main" universe. Since both the Klingons and the Cardasians were giving the Federation hard times, it is quite possible that fighting against both at the same time would have been perilous.
  • In-universe, I think you’ve got it. The OP asked “ Why does peace and reform necessarily result in weakness?”, but Kira actually said “his empire was no longer in any position to defend itself against us” (emphasis mine). That’s specific, not a general assertion. – Paul D. Waite Jun 3 '15 at 12:30
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The Empire as described in "Mirror, Mirror" is, in the best(?) traditions of SF, something of a straw man. It is an extreme version, almost a parody, of a working empire. Promotion by assassination? Barely controlled aggression among the ranks? Torture as a normal disciplinary action? These are not the hallmarks of a stable social order, and Kirk's prediction that the Empire will not last is probably correct. So, the OP conflates two different questions. "...why does it fall after becoming peaceful? Why does peace and reform necessarily result in weakness?" is two entirely separate questions.

First, "...why does it fall after becoming peaceful?" is difficult to answer since the succession society is not described in any detail. Given Roddenberry's utopian tendencies, the TOS version became pacifist and demilitarized. While this has its attractions, such a society is unlikely to successfully resist an aggressive, effective military force. It's a truth which many folks don't like to admit, but in the short term, unopposed use of force works just fine.

The second question, "Why does peace and reform necessarily result in weakness?" is easily answered: it doesn't, as long as it does not destroy the ability to engage in war. Vegetius's "Si vis pacem, para bellum" (if you would know peace, study war) goes back a long ways, and stands in stark contrast to J.B.Miles' assertion "If nations learn war and prepare for war, they will have war. If they study peace and prepare for peace, they will have peace". Both are, in my opinion, equally wrong. It is the middle way, of maintaining capability while avoiding the exercise of that capability, which produces a workable situation.

A demilitarized society trying to counter a determined enemy will encounter a hard truth: the military is different from civilian society, and it cannot be built quickly. Warships are built to an entirely different set of standards than freighters, and effective ones need to be built as such from the keel up. Warships carry no useful cargo, so they are completely uneconomical. They are built to unreasonable expectations of speed, armor and armament, and none of those things are useful in peacetime. The same goes for military equipment of all sorts. Fighters and bombers are useless in peacetime. Artillery, and all sort of weaponry, make no sense at all in the absence of war. But they are fundamentally required by a society which is opposed by a society which possesses them, and willing to use those tools to destroy or subjugate that society.

Much worse is the fact that military society is fundamentally different from a peaceful, industrialized civilian society. Where civilians value cooperation and affability, the military, in order to be effective at what defines it (combat) must encourage (and simultaneously control) aggression and conflict. Where "Star Trek" civilian societies hold individual lives precious, military forces must be willing to sacrifice any number of individuals and keep on functioning (See TNG, "Thine Own Self"). Where societies which we admire protect individual autonomy, military organizations must enforce a level of discipline which will permit some to sacrifice others for the good of the whole - whether the ones being sacrificed agree or not. These patterns of thought, and feeling, and behavior do not come easily to many, while they come too easily to those who would abuse them, and the development of a working military culture is not something which will happen quickly.

Such aspects of military behavior are easy to parody, as Roddenberry did in "Mirror, Mirror", but accepting such parodies as essential truths is a simplistic, willful ignorance of the logic of conflict.

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