Ben Denison is a Ph.D. Student at the University of Notre Dame and can be found on twitter @DenisonBe
Following a prolonged political-military conflict between two great powers, the former territory occupied by the evil empire is aided in its political development by the liberal great power who stood against the evil empire for 50 years. Political and economic aid flows from the liberal power to attempt to help develop the former occupied territory. The goal is to propel their political development forward while drawing the former occupied territory into their alliance to expand the liberal network of defense and political cooperation.
This is where we open the 1993 series Star Trek Deep Space Nine (DS9). The pilot episode shows The Federation taking control of the Terok Nor station from Cardassia following the end of the Cardassian war and the Cardassian occupation of Bejor. However, in 1993, it also describes the situation in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, with NATO and the European Union moving to aid the former Soviet satellite states. Once this connection is made, the first few seasons of DS9 can be seen in a different light as a reflection on the problems the Western world will have in bringing Eastern Europe into the fold and the seemingly simple mission become more complex as political realities become clear.
Beginning in 1993, the initial two seasons of DS9 delve deeply into the difficulties of dealing with a newly liberated territory and their people. This is fascinating turn from prior Star Trek series where the episodic nature did not allow for deep exploration of the political and military conflicts and their ramifications on the shows universe. Now, however, the writers of the show can explore political themes over multiple episodes and seasons into a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities faced in post-conflict scenarios. It is clear that the writers of the show have the previous experience of the Cold War on their minds and use the Bajorans as a useful way to explore the difficulties and struggles that East Europe will face following the end of the conflict. While the end of a conflict is a thing to celebrate, political struggle does not end there and the questions about what to do following a conflict in some ways are even more difficult to answer.
As Bajor emerges from the Cardassian occupation with a fragmented political system that is in transition, The Federation offers aid to the Bajorans in their transition, offering to provide security and assistance to allow the Bajorans to become an independent political system with a growing economic market to tap into. The wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant is stable and the economic growth potential through trade is high, once the political system is adapted to allow Bajor to benefit from the increased trade. Cardassia remains as an ever-present threat, albeit a greatly reduced threat to Bajor. However, most importantly, The Federation sees Bajor as a potential member of The Federation and extends membership to the Bajorans. However, instead of embracing it enthusiastically, some Bajorans are skeptical of The Federation offer and instead would prefer complete autonomy from any of the major powers in the quadrant.
After a 50 year occupation, Bajor does not have a political class that knows how to run independent political institutions and how to handle their new found autonomy. Thus, The Federation with their developed political institutions and economy offers to aid their development and enmesh them in The Federation as an independent planet but operating under The Federations umbrella. This is problematic for many Bajorans as they see The Federation as just a replacement for the Cardassians after they have just won their independence and sovereignty from their tutelage. For example, Major Kira, the main Bajoran on DS9, initially wishes The Federation to leave Bajor alone and allow them to build their own functioning governance structure. However, over time as she interacts with various Vedaks and the political struggle for the next Kai heats up, the it becomes clear that nationalist and anti-Federation political forces are more means to gain political power than actual beneficial policies for Bajor. Instead, the technical assistance that The Federation can provide to help Bajor integrate their economy into the larger economy of the universe and tap into the natural benefits of the wormhole, while also providing political stability is a clear political good for Bajor. In addition, the security provided by Federation presence on DS9 helps keep Cardassia at bay, even when their military class views their retreat from Bajor a strategic mistake. Thus, Bajor is deeply conflicted, benefiting from The Federation presence but also reluctant to cede so much sovereignty after fighting so hard to just win it.
EU expansion into Eastern Europe largely faced similar struggles, with anti-EU parties emerging in Eastern Europe to protest EU membership on nationalist grounds. While the US and the EU provided political and economic benefits for moving towards democratic governance and a capitalist economy, EU membership with its benefits, appeared to just replace the Soviet influence of the previous 50 years with Western influence. However, the pro-EU forces eventually won out, but it took until the late 1990s to see these pro-integration forces really triumph. NATO expansion, however, was also contention but largely followed without much resistance in Eastern Europe as former Soviet satellite states feared Soviet reprisals and joined the mutual defense pact they stood against for 50 years. Just as in early seasons Cardassia is unwilling to push back against Bajor due to The Federation’s presence, NATO’s ability to deter Russia from military action against their former satellite states is important.
The Federation acts as a EU/NATO hybrid uniting formerly warring and distant planets together into one confederation with a common foreign policy. However, their offer of membership to Bajor is a reminder that there are clear costs to joining such a federation, namely a reduction sovereignty, something that is tough to give away after fighting for it for so many years. While two seasons in, it does not appear prospective Federation expansion to Bajor will make the Cardassians recoil as Russia recently has with the proposal for Ukrainian NATO/EU membership, if The Federation were to expand to include the colonies in the DMZ between Cardassia and The Federation this could happen. But these similarities ultimately show the political context that the show runners of DS9 were operating under and their view of the difficulty of transitional political structures. Looking back now, integration of Eastern Europe into Western political and military institutions appears per-ordained. However, the context in 1993 and 1994 were much more contingent, as current debates on Ukraine remind us, and makes DS9 a fascinating case in examining the politics of the post-Cold War era.