Warning: this post contains lazy historical comparisons
I haven’t read any of the Trek books so I could be way off on this, but looking at the map of the Alpha Quadrant, it seems that both the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire are spread a little thin.
I know the Romulans semi-collapsed after their star went nova and, according to memory alpha, became the Romulan Free State, so I’ll leave them out and focus on the Klingons.
Here’s what I know [from DS9 and memory alpha and even Enterprise…correct me in the comments if I’m wrong cos there’s a good chance I am]:
The Klingon Empire wasn’t always obsessed with swinging batl’ths [sic] at alien planets, they became more militaristic as they expanded out into space. Actually, I don’t know when exactly the balance shifted, I’m just going off of the conversation between Archer and his lawyer in ‘Judgment’ [same actor who played Martok], where Archer is told that Klingons used to appreciate science and art and medicine more, but the military flashed their platform boots and altered the direction of their culture. From that point on, all the kids wanted to die before they were 25 [preferably in battle, but brawling with their mates also worked] and play suicidal drinking games in between.
After the transition into a conquering force, they used a mixed strategy to expand and build their empire. Colonies were set up on empty M class planets/moons, alien planets were conquered by force and subjugated, other alien worlds were annexed [not sure if they needed to fight these worlds, just offering them economic advantages and giving them freedom to rule themselves could’ve been enough], and…I think that’s it, three types of conquering.
The most direct form was seen or referenced in the original Trek episodes, as well as the Season 4 war with Cardassia in DS9, where the Klingons would blitzkrieg the alien world, execute all government officials, install a Klingon governor to put down any further resistance and then start exporting Klingon TV serials from Q’onos.
This is effective in the short term, but [as someone who’s watched at least 3 oversimplified vids] this kind of arrangement never seemed to last too long in human history, especially when the two cultures were not alike and were distant from each other. You could argue China has held together pretty well, but that seems to be mostly down to its Han Chinese core. Look at how they [the Chinese Govt.] treat Tibetans and Uyghurs. It’s a contentious issue as to who was there first [don’t want to hurt the feelings of the Chinese Governm…Chinese people], but China has conquered, lost and reconquered them [possibly more than once, I’m not sure] in the last two and half thousand years and it’s bound to happen again at some point. The whole relationship is based on power and force. No one likes being occupied by a foreign monolith. Look at the British Empire too [in pretty much every colony it had] the Mongols, the Spanish, the Persians, the Greeks, the Baldwins…even if you incorporate their food and some of their language into your own culture, you’re still oppressors and people who either aren’t pragmatists or don’t have a huge attachment to your culture aren’t gonna be submissive en masse forever.
The US could be a counter-point. But technically they rebelled against the British then “conquered” various Native American Tribal lands and added it all up into the country it is today, so it’s not quite the same as the Klingons.
Actually, I’m not sure exactly what happened with all the Native American tribes, I heard the US gave some of them diseased blankets, battled against/slaughtered others, redlined the leftovers, but that’s about all I know.
Also, their empire [outside of the US] is not built on permanently conquering and colonising land, it’s based on putting psychotic generals in charge of South American countries, sucking off Saudi Arabia and getting the World Bank/IMF to lecture into austerity any countries that even begin to say ‘hey, maybe we should help our own people instead of EXXON’. And, in another contrast with the Klingons, it’s superficially [very superficially from what I’ve seen of US politics] a diverse, multi-cultural country. Don’t think #Oscarssoklingon is gonna get much traction in the empire. They’re the boss, annexed or conquered races are not. No debate.
The Klingons could’ve used similar tactics in remote parts of the empire, the places that were difficult to supply/manage?
I don’t know.
Did they put a governor in charge of every planet under their umbrella? If not, then that would be a mirroring of US foreign policy…indirect control through a puppet or friendly regime.
Of course, I’m not a historian, and I usually don’t like doing comparisons to Earth history when it comes to Trek as the history of alien cultures in Trek is slim and doesn’t make much sense, mainly because the writers don’t have enough time or narrative room to add detail and variety e.g. The Romulans are based on the Romans, the Klingons are based on the Samurai, planet of the hats etc., but when it comes to the Klingon Empire I think it’s okay to compare [otherwise I’d have nothing to write here]. How exactly can they avoid the fate of every empire that has existed in Earth History?
I read something by Ron Moore, Klingon master, where he said ‘a lot of the alien worlds within the Klingon Empire would stay in for its political and economic advantages’, which may appear true, but also implies that when those advantages become disadvantages, they’ll Klexit.
At the end of DS9, Martok becomes Chancellor and the Klingons seem to be decent people, or represented by someone decent at least. But are they?
They’re still militaristic, Martok may have mellowed a bit during his time with Sisko and Worf, but he still said in season 6 that the Klingons were conquerors, it’s what they do, most warriors are still warriors, not scientists. They’ve just won a huge war, you think they’re gonna go back to the couch and watch Friends?
I don’t know what happened in the novels after DS9, but if you take post-WW2 as an example, this could be the end of the Klingon Empire, or the reshaping of it at least.
Their economy must be on its knees, they’ve lost a huge number of soldiers, ships and blood wine reserves, if Planet India was waiting for the right time to push for independence, now would be that time.
There are some caveats: I don’t think the Klingon Empire was directly attacked by the Dominion, so their planetary and orbital infrastructure should be intact, which means their economy may not have been that badly damaged after all, just like the US after WW2.
How does the Klingon economy work?
Back to imperialism and half-assed comparisons…
India was much, much bigger than the UK in population and land, and therefore impossible to subjugate forever. The alien planets under the Klingons are probably single planets…actually, I have no idea, I’m just assuming they are…but if they are single planets then it’s more akin to Hong Kong trying to break away from China. Or Texas from the US. Or Robert Beltran from Voyager.
Now that I think about it, how many Klingons are there in the Klingon Empire?
I can’t see any figures on Memory Alpha.
Never heard it mentioned in any of the series.
Probably cos the whole idea of one race, especially a ‘holodeck safeties off’ one, controlling such a huge empire is extremely implausible. Especially if those alien planets you subjugate have knowledge of warp and phasers. The Klingons would quickly lose the technological advantage and then what? Slaughter anyone charismatic who disagrees with them?
I really need more information to write about this…but where can I get that info?
Or perhaps I’m looking at it in a way that Trek cannot accommodate.
Maybe the detail just isn’t there.
The writers needed an intimidating enemy for the Federation in the original series so they created the Klingons, and the Romulans, and gave them a similar amount of territory. But the Federation is the only way you could have something of that size without it falling apart within 100 years, maybe 200…and the federation concept has its weaknesses…similar to the EU and the US…when something becomes too large, and its parts too distant, it tends to becomes schismatic. Some planets like the new alien species joining the Federation, others don’t. Some want to help the Tholians, some want to elect Viktor Orban.
Is it sustainable?
Is it sustainable here on Earth?
Not with the five richest countries propping up the UN…and the richest people trying to build bigger and bigger money bins while the rest of us piss in bottles in the amazon moon factory.
Break up the big countries?
Back to the Klingons…
My hope for any future Trek show is:
A] change the locks so Alex Kurtzman can’t get in.
B] Show a different side to the Klingons…their empire is collapsing and there’s a reimagining of the concept of honour…they start fighting lost cause conflicts to help other aliens?
C] their empire is collapsing and the leadership tries to cling on to whatever they can cling on to…which isn’t much. They start prospecting for new planets and the Federation is dragged into their mess, as they’re looking in the same places…
What would the Klingons do if their empire collapsed?
They wouldn’t join the Federation…would they?
Pivot to the wormhole? Alliance with the Bajorans?
At some point they have to either decline into a backward state or realise that you can’t go around conquering planets with a nationalistic attitude.
D] They turn into master diplomats, producing high quality TV dramas/films, a Klingon language app, Klingon love hotels, Klingon video game companies.
Sadly, Martok is not the man to usher in that day…in fact, he’ll probably be assassinated a few years after the end of DS9…especially when other Klingons learn of how Worf helped him to become Chancellor. It could easily be twisted to look like Martok tricked Worf into fighting Gowron for him, knowing that his stunt double would win and, after a moment of doubt, give the cloak to him.
And what would Martok do if annexed worlds within the empire pushed for independence?
Respect their wishes?
Or crush them?
And how would their firm friends the Federation react?
I think I’ve just come up with the plot for that ‘Captain Worf’ series they always talked about but never made…
Please someone make this.
Please use actual sci-fi writers.
Okay, looks like my Martok ramblings were premature. I’ve discovered the cousin of memory alpha, memory beta, and a lot of info about non-canon Trek story, including what happened to Martok. Some of it seems to line up with what I said e.g. Klingon hardliners trying to assassinate/overthrow Martok, and other parts just seem ridiculous e.g. Martok is put in stasis and tortured in the region from Star Trek Insurrection, then brought back to vitality with the magical radiation and…who writes this shit?
But this is not canon so Captain Worf is still good to go. Just take the best bits from those non-canon novels and add to them.
Anyone got Michael Dorn’s email?
2 thoughts on “The Fall of the Klingon Empire?”
Interesting post. Some thought provoking ideas. From what I recall the Klingons do join the Federation in the future of one time line but the IP is so messed up that it is impossible to say if that is the “main timeline” or not and even if it is whether that will change again next week.
From Memory Alpha…
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Samaritan Snare”, Wesley Crusher asked Captain Picard if an event happened “before the Klingons joined the Federation.” This statement has never been explained in canon and later episodes clearly show a Klingon Empire that didn’t join the Federation. However, it is possible he meant that the Klingons joined the Federation as allies. [Per the TNG “bible”, the Empire joined the Federation, and in the Season One episode “Heart of Glory”, the Federation crest was beside that of the Klingon Empire behind the commander of the Klingon cruiser pursuing the three fugitives.]
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You paid a lot closer attention to TNG seasons 1 and 2 than I did, ha. Good observation though. I guess the writers were still finding their way at that point and didn’t know exactly what the Klingon-Federation relationship was. But then the fed crest being on the klingon ship…that makes it seem more like they had made a decision, that the klingons were in the Federation, then changed their minds later.