In "Samaritan Snare", there's an interesting exchange between Wesley Crusher and Captain Picard:

PICARD: Several friends and I were on leave at Farspace Starbase Earhart. It was little more than a galactic outpost in those days.

WESLEY: Was this before the Klingons joined the Federation?

PICARD: That's right.

But in other instances, it is pretty clear that the Klingons aren't full members of the Federation. They still refer to the Empire, have their own ships, and seem to be a separate polity.

For example, in "The Defector",

PICARD: Cancel red alert. Mister Worf, will you extend the appreciation of the Federation and my personal gratitude to the Klingons.

So what gives? What exactly is the relationship between the Klingons and the Federation in the TNG era?

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    One assumes Picard was being graceful in not pointing out Wesley’s glaring schoolboy error. Boy genius my arse. Jun 1, 2015 at 14:48
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    It's clear that the Federation is a looser alliance than, say, the USA. It seems to be more like the EU, with a united military at times but also with individual forces. (We see Vulcan ships too, for example.) It could be that the Klingons are members, but in a more nuanced sense, sort of like how Kosovo is in the Eurozone but not the EU, while Great Britain is in the EU but not the Eurozone.
    – Nerrolken
    Jun 1, 2015 at 16:35
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    And FWIW it seems more militarily unified than the EU, in that so far there's no such thing as an "EU battleship". Jun 1, 2015 at 17:17
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    @SteveJessop The EU isn't a perfect metaphor, but my point was that the Federation is looser than a single country, which this question seems to assume. Texas can't enter into foreign agreements without the approval of the USA at large, but apparently Vulcan can open negotiations with Romulus without immediately informing Federation leadership. So it could be that the Klingons are members, but retain considerable autonomy anyway.
    – Nerrolken
    Jun 1, 2015 at 19:47
  • 2
    @PaulD.Waite: it's jointly manufactured, but once in service they aren't jointly operated. NATO co-operation has seen RAF Typhoons flying from Italian airbases and suchlike. Jun 2, 2015 at 0:01

11 Answers 11


The Klingon Empire appears to have been intended to be a member of the Federation in TNG; however, in Season 3 the writers ret-conned that idea to allow them to be aggressors again.

This is a screen capture from Season 1 showing a United Federation of Planets logo on a Klingon bridge. enter image description here

Other than this screen grab, and the conversation cited by the OP, it was never firmly established what level of Federation "Membership" the Klingons had, and so it was very easy to again make them into aggressors.

More evidence is given here in the writers guide:
Star Trek - The Next Generation - Writer/Director's Guide (PDF)

  • 3
    its just speculative, though having a starfleet decal painted on your deck is fishy if your not a member of the federation, but like i said, they ditched that idea shortly after the comment weasly made in ops question.
    – Himarm
    Jun 1, 2015 at 15:22
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    @cde -- I think the point is valid. Why would the Klingons have a starfleet symbols on their ship if they weren't members? You don't find Union Jacks on American ships. Having the symbol is something more than allies. Jun 1, 2015 at 15:23
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    @Himarm I wonder if K'Nera in that episode had some form of special diplomatic or police style Starfleet rank that allowed him to use that? He was sent to capture some people who had stolen a ship, and there may have been an expectation when someone was dispatched that the 3 were going to enter into Starfleet space.
    – Zoredache
    Jun 1, 2015 at 16:53
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    For state visits, it's common to display symbols of both parties, like this. Maybe that could explain the Federation symbol?
    – Junuxx
    Jun 1, 2015 at 17:23
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    The TNG Writers/Directors Guide also states Klingons have joined the Federation, along with other things eventually changed -- like Geordie being a teacher.
    – TZHX
    Jun 1, 2015 at 18:13

My answer is isomorphic to that of @Himarm in some parts, but differs in others. My answer also begins with:

The Klingon Empire appears to have been intended to be a member of the Federation in TNG timeline; however, in Season 3 the writers retconned that idea...

But my answer differs on

...to allow them to be aggressors again.

To be more precise, the Klingon Empire was originally intended to be part of the Federation, and this was partly so that TNG could have a Klingon officer — namely Worf — serving on the Enterprise.

The idea was retconned in Season 3 not directly so as to make the Klingons into aggressors again, but rather to develop interesting storylines in which Worf was torn between a "human" life in the Federation and a warrior's life in the Empire.

So began the story of Duras, Gowron, the Klingon Civil War, and the restoration of honor to the House of Mogh. Note that the Klingons were not aggressors against the Federation, but rather against themselves!

Also, not having the Empire as part of the Federation made Worf leaving Starfleet and joining the Empire in "Redemption (Part 1)" all the more dramatic.

Once the parameters of the 24th Century relationship between the Federation and the Klingon Empire stabilized, i.e. a peace accord rather than a merger or integration, the foundation of their accord was explored in Star Trek VI (which was released during TNG Season 5).

Source: Regarding Worf's struggle between life in the Federation and the Empire as a basis for the retcon, I recall reading something to this effect many years ago, but cannot locate the source.

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    I can't judge the correctness of this answer, but I very nearly upvoted it only for your starting out by pointing out both how it is similar to as well as different from an existing answer.
    – user
    Jun 2, 2015 at 11:10

Adding to existing answers, Klingons DO join the Federation sometime in the future (before or during the 26th Century).

In the "Azati Prime" episode of Enterprise, Temporal Agent Daniels describes the ongoing Battle of Procyon V, saying the Federation has won. When Captain Archer asks about the Federation, Daniels mentions a couple of member races, including the Klingons.

ARCHER: The Federation? You've mentioned them before.

DANIELS: Vulcans, Andorians, Ithenites, Klingons. Dozens of species, including humans, all unified in a powerful alliance.

Some people don't consider Enterprise to be canon — so keep that in mind.


I'm not as familiar with the out-of-universe details as the other answerers, but the Klingons definitely never became members of the Federation in TV canon. The Federation-Klingon border isn't as heavily fortified as the Federation-Romulan border, and the Khitomer Accords abolished the Neutral Zone along that border, but it's still manned with a series of Federation space stations and actively patrolled by the Klingons by the 24th century.

Aside from joint operations, Klingon ships are under the direct command of Klingon Defence Force, which in turn is under the command of the Klingon High Council. They're not part of the Federation council, and the Klingon Empire is consistently treated as separate from the Federation both in territory and as a political entity. In fact, the Federation clashes militarily with the Klingon Empire during both the 23rd and 24th centuries.

Probably the best ret-con of Wesley's line is that he meant when the Klingons joined forces with the Federation as allies after the Khitomer Accords.

Even if they wanted to join the Federation, they wouldn't be able to because:

  • They have a caste system. (The Bajorans were also warned by Sisko that their application to the Federation would be threatened if they re-implemented their caste system.)
  • They have a bunch of subjugated worlds that only remain with the empire under the threat of force.
  • They clearly don't respect the Prime Directive.

In the non-canon Star Trek: Star Charts, in addition to the 183 members, the Federation also has 7,128 "affiliates." It's possible that after the Khitomer Accords, they were considered one such affiliate, similar to Bajor.

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    "They clearly don't respect the Prime Directive." Hmmm... Was Captain Kirk a member of the Federation? ;-) Jun 2, 2015 at 7:38
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    @T.J.Crowder: I know you're kidding. But Kirk is not a political entity, so no, not a member of the Federation. He's a citizen of the Federation and a Starfleet officer, which binds him, but can't make him respect the Prime Directive. Jun 3, 2015 at 16:06

As @TZHX has pointed out in a comment above, this issue is likely caused by the writers of the series having been told (in no uncertain terms) that Klingon is no longer an enemy of the Federation and that the Klingons have recently joined the Federation Alliance.

The following is cribbed from the official TNG Writer/Director's Guide, otherwise known as the show's "bible".


The Federation is not a human-only alliance. Many worlds, human and otherwise, have joined together to form a Federation of mutual benefits and services. Starfleet vessels serve all the worlds of the Federation, not simply Earth. By the time of the 24th century, that are as many alien worlds in the Federation as human. Quite recently, for example, Klingon joined the Federation and we have begun to see Klingon officers in Starfleet.

ST: TNG / March 23, 1987


The Klingon Empire is not a member of the Federation as of DS9 season 4 (2372), and there is no specific evidence that they joined during DS9's run (given the diplomatic situation, it seems unlikely). TNG provides moderately strong evidence that they were not members in season 4 of that show (2367).

From TNG, we can see that the prime directive applies to the Klingons, and also they have a treaty with the Federation:

GOWRON: The Duras family is gathering a large force near Beta Thoridar. As per the terms of the Treaty of Alliance, I now formally request your assistance in fighting these enemies of the Empire.
RIKER: These enemies are Klingons.
GOWRON: By right and tradition, I am the sole leader. All who oppose me are traitors.
PICARD: I understand your position, but I', [sic, my copy might not be authoritative] sure you're aware that the Federation cannot interfere in what is, by definition, an internal Klingon affair.
GOWRON: You arbitrated the Rite of Succession. You are already involved.
PICARD: My duties in that regard are finished.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode 4x26 "Redemption"

The PD does not apply to Federation citizens. I cannot find any specific evidence of this, but it strikes me as overwhelmingly obvious. It also seems improbable that a Federation member would need to invoke a treaty (or indeed, would have such a treaty to invoke) in order to request assistance in this manner. Finally, if the Klingon Empire were a member, this would not be a Klingon civil war. It would be a Federation civil war, and Picard would not have refused Gowron.

In DS9, we learn that the Klingon Empire has (multiple) ambassadors to the Federation, and the ability to withdraw from treaties:

O'BRIEN: Well, what did the Federation Council say?
SISKO: They've decided to condemn the Klingon invasion. In response, Gowron has expelled all Federation citizens from the Klingon Empire and recalled his ambassadors from the Federation.
KIRA: You're saying he cut off diplomatic relations?
SISKO: He's done more than that. The Klingons have withdrawn from the Khitomer Accords. The peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire has ended.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Episode 4x01 "The Way of the Warrior"

This is rather odd, since an ambassador is the official representative of a nation, and so it is uncommon in real life for a country to have more than one ambassador to another country (though they may have numerous diplomats). I would tend to interpret the "ambassadors" remark as either Sisko misspeaking, or the Empire's individual possessions having separate ambassadorial representation, which would still be pretty weird. In any event, the involvement of any number of ambassadors suggests an arm's length relationship between the UFP and the Empire.

Regardless, if Klingons were Federation citizens, it would not make sense for Gowron to expel "all Federation citizens." Furthermore, the fact that the Klingon Empire can unilaterally withdraw from the peace treaty provides evidence that the Klingon Empire is a sovereign and independent state, not a UFP member.

So if the Empire is not a member of the Federation, what is their relationship? By analogy to Earth, the UFP is like the USA, and the Empire is like the UK. They share a close diplomatic relationship, but the UK is not a state in the American sense.


Possibly the original Klingon Empire from TOS divided into several realms after Star trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with at least one Klingon realm ruling several planets joining the Federation as a member, and at least one Klingon realm remaining outside the Federation, though often allied to it, and growing to become the large and powerful Klingon Imperial Empire of "Sins of the Father" and its sequels in the Worf story arc.

Sort of like how the small Republic of China became a member of the United Nations for decades while the large and powerful People's Republic of China was banned from membership, and several regions which had been part of the Chines Empire under the Qing Dynasty were independent realms not part of either Chinese republic.

If there were a number of splinter Klingon realms that would explain how Worf's old nurse said in "Sins of the Father" that Worf's father Mogh was "loyal to the emperor" and then it was later revealed in "Rightful Heir" that There had not been an emperor of the Klingon Imperial Empire for 300 years.


The fact that Federation membership is normally applied on a planetary basis (TNG:"Attached") could allow for Golding's splinter hypothesis: some Klingon colony worlds could have opted to join the Federation, while the Klingon Empire itself remained a sovereign political entity. After all, it is never explicitly stated that the Klingon Empire joined the Federation as a whole.

That said, I am still more inclined to write off Wesley's alleged inconsistency as a slip of the tongue, or short-hand for a formal alliance not otherwise established in Star Trek canon. I suppose it could be a reference to the Second Khitomer Accords (mentioned in Star Trek: Insurrection).

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    This seems very guesswork-y. Is there any evidence that this is actually the case?
    – Valorum
    Aug 19, 2015 at 7:51

Entirely possible that Wesley forgot to finish his sentence - "Before the Klingons joined the Federation.... in an alliance".

I think it more likely that Wes is just dumb as two short planks. This is the same episode he didn't know how to open a door in, the same character who said "I'm with Starfleet, we don't lie", and the character who was "so amazing" he failed to get into the academy on how many occasions? Wesley was brought up on a diet of extreme propaganda and this led to his naivety. Poor Picard just wanted to read a book in peace while eating his cucumber sandwiches and stewing about the fact Geordi had broken his yacht, he wasn't about to tackle that particular facet of Wesley's (lack of) education.


I myself see Star Trek Enterprise as cannon. It was a TV show on a major network with rights from CBS or whoever owned the Star Trek brand at the time. Was it not? In that show Daniels from the future I believe the 29th or 30th century stated the Klingon's as being part of the Federation. To me this ends the debate as to the question.

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    They may well have joined it by the 29th century. But the question is whether they'd joined by the 24th Century. "What exactly is the relationship between the Klingons and the Federation in the TNG era?"
    – Valorum
    Aug 21, 2015 at 22:02
  • This doesn't answer the question asked, which was about the TNG era.
    – Mithical
    Nov 28, 2017 at 14:48

IMHO opinion we can look to history for analogies.

In 1204 the crusaders and the Venetians captured Constantinople, capital of the estern Roman Empire, and established the "Latin Empire of Constantinople" as it is usually called, grabbing all the imperial lands they could. Various eastern Roman or "Byzantine" leaders established their own Roman realms, "The Empire of Trebizond", "the Empire of Nicaea", and the "Despotate of Epirus", as they are called by modern historians, and several short lived smaller realms.

Thus there were a number of territorial realms whose monarchs called themselves Roman Emperors of one type or another during the 13th and 14th centuries. At some times as many as five, six, or seven independent "Roman" realms.

In 1000 Ad the Caliph of Cordoba ruled most of Spain and most of the Christians, Muslims, and Jews living there. But the Caliphate began to split up into a number of independent realms called taifas in the period from 1010 to the fall of the Caliphate in 1031. Theh last taifa as conquered by the Almoravids in 1110. Three were 33 taifas in all, and over twenty at the same time during their peak numbers.

If the Muslims in Spain are considered an ethnic group, they had over twenty independent realms at one time.

Americans are an ethnic group that has ruled more than one independent nation. Beside the USA, there was Vermont from 1777 to 1791, Texas from 1836-1846, the CSA from 1861-1865, and Hawaii 1894-1898.

The Boers or Afrikaners established a number of mostly short lived republics in South Africa during the 19th century. This article has a list of 17 Boer republics.

There was always at least one Boer republic from 1835 to 1902, and sometimes more. In some periods there were three, four, or five Boer republics at a time. The Boer ethnic group can be compared to the Klingon species, and their servants of various ethnic groups can be compared to Klingon subjects belonging to various species.

So it is quite possible that some Klingons split off from the main klingon realm and formed their own independent realms at various times, especially during the confusing times around the Khitomer agreement. At the time of TNG there might have been tens of Klingon realms, some ruling only a single planet, some ruling tens of planets, in addition to the largest ealm that ruled mos tof the former Klingon realm.

It is possible that one or more former Klingon realms applied to join the Federation, and some of them may have succeeded in becoming associate or full members. I think that the Klingon realm in "Heart of Glory" was an associate or full member of the Federation. And they may be the ones Wesley mentioned as (at least partially) joining the Federation.

With many Klingon realms, it was not redundant for Picard to refer to the main and largest one by its full official title of the "Klingon Imperial Empire" in "Sins of the Father".

The episode "Samaritan Snare" has Wesley state that the Klingons joined the Federation during Picard's lifetime. Picard agrees. Later episodes show a Klingon realm outside of the Federation. Thus either

  1. a Klingon state joined and later left the Federation during Picard's Starfleet career, or
  2. at least one Klingon state joined the Federation during Picard's lifetime and at least one Klingon state did not join the Federation and remained independent, or
  3. that Wesley and Picard meant that the Klingons joined some other Federation - like the hypothetical "Federation of Warrior Species" - instead of the United Federation of Planets.

Those are the only possibilities I can think of to reconcile the seeming contradiction.

Fitzgerald translates Omar Khayyam to say:

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

My rules for interpreting stories include:

The dancing fingers type, and having typed, move on: not all your genius nor wit can go back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears erase a single word.

I say that no writer has the authority to do a retcon and no reader or viewer has the authority accept the validity of a retcon.

The most that a writer can do is figure out how the previous lore could be true "from a certain point of view" and does not actually contradict the new story he wants to tell.

I have just pointed out how the statement that: "the Klingons joined the Federation" could be merely true from "a certain point of view" and thus not contradict the Klingon story arc.

Why were the Klingons no longer members of the Federation?

  • Probably baseless in canon, but an interesting conjecture. Dec 31, 2016 at 6:32
  • Can you recall any support for this idea?
    – Adamant
    Dec 31, 2016 at 6:38
  • This seems like supposition at best and not something supported by the actual show. At best this is fanfic.
    – Valorum
    Dec 31, 2016 at 9:38
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    @M.A.Golding Please merge your accounts, this is getting difficult to keep track of.
    – Möoz
    Jan 12, 2017 at 4:47
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    This commentary on retcons is more than a little tangential. Also: no reader has the authority to accept retcons? According to whom? If retcons bother you, you might consider them as a separate story: I assume you have no issues with reboots, or similar characters and themes being used in multiple stories.
    – Adamant
    Jan 12, 2017 at 5:50

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