The Cardassian Union, sometimes referred to as the Cardassian Empire, has a long, rich history. The Cardassians were originally an empire driven by peaceful and spiritual knowledge. When an extreme resource depression forced the Cardassian people into a more militaristic power the tides of political power changed on Cardassia Prime in an effort to gather off-world resources in the name of self-preservation. Since that time the Cardassians have strived to expand in an effort to increase their storage of raw materials and economic wealth.
The head of the Cardassian Union is Chairman Ila Rekal.
The history of the Cardassian Union tends to consist of extremes. Once a peaceful and spiritual people, their planet’s poor resources proved unable to support their expanding population, and starvation and disease became rampant. Millions of deaths resulted, leading to a general breakdown in the government. The military forces of the planet staged a takeover and launched several wars against their neighbors in order to secure new resources. The Cardassian Union itself was formed under an agreement between Central Command and the Obsidian Order to share power.
In 2346 the Cardassians invaded Setlik III, believing it to be a base to be used in an invasion of their own territory by the United Federation of Planets and a prolonged period of tension further heightened by hostilities resulted. In 2355 the Federation dispatched a starship in an attempt to make peace, but the Cardassians rejected the offer and forced the ship to flee. Hostilities officially ended in 2367, although the Cardassians remained less than friendly.
In 2372 a civilian uprising deposed the military government. Suspecting Dominion involvement in the coup, the Klingons launched an invasion of Cardassian space and eventually Cardassia Prime, the Cardassian homeworld. The Federation opposed this action and was successful in forcing the Klingons to halt their advance towards Cardassia Prime. This destroyed the Federation-Klingon alliance and resulted in a short period of hostilities between those two powers after the Klingon Empire withdrew from the Khitomer Accords. Despite this, the Federation shipped considerable aid to the devastated Cardassian government.
Humiliated by having to rely on charity from a former enemy after a relatively quick and easy defeat at the hands of the Klingon Empire, Gul Dukat led a Dominion takeover of the Cardassian Union and was installed as ruler of the region in 2373. The Dominion were quick to upgrade the Cardassian fleet and introduce more advanced technologies into their shipbuilding techniques. Cardassian forces subsequently fought alongside the Jem'Hadar in the Dominion War with their leader, Legate Damar, who took power after Legate Dukat was presumed dead.
But the war took an extensive toll on the Cardassian people, who lost prestige with the Dominion following their alliance with the Breen and suffered losses of over 7 million troops by the war’s mid-point. This triggered Damar to instigate and lead a rebellion, which ultimately allowed the Federation Alliance to prevail in the war’s final battle at Cardassia Prime. However, the Dominion surrender came after they had ordered the genocide of the Cardassian people, 800 million of whom were slaughtered before the cessation of hostilities.
The United Federation of Planets extended a hand of friendship to the Union after the war in an effort to help them rebuild. While the Union was loath to accept that help there was little choice: the Cardassian Union had been devastated by the war and barely had the resources to rebuild Cardassia Prime, much less the rest of the Union. Three months after the end of the war, the first Federation assistance arrived on Cardassia Prime.
Post-Dominion War Cardassia, and the Union as a whole, is a ghost of its former glory. With their infrastructure obliterated by the occupation by Dominion forces, vast swathes of their population murdered, and survivors left starving and without the means to support themselves, the restored Detapa Council turned to the Federation for aid.
It did not come without conditions, such as an end to Cardassian territorial expansionism and limits upon military investment. The borders whose demarcation led to the Maquis less than ten years prior were drawn anew, the Federation reclaiming territory that they had once ceded. With some Cardassian settlements established on those worlds, some freedom of movement and rights to settle were permitted, but in further shame to the Cardassian people, security for that border fell to Starfleet.
This arrangement came to an abrupt end with the attack on Mars in 2385. Scrambling for resources and prioritising the needs of their own people, the Federation cut back on the relief arrangements that had been promised Cardassia. This loss of resources led to the ensuing decline of the Detapa Council.
A Turbulent Decade
Within years, the absence of Federation support was keenly felt in Cardassian territory. The ensuing discontent and desperation was exploited by Central Command, the military leadership, sidelined by the Detapa Council and underfunded by Federation decree. Their return to old rhetoric of territorial expansion to solve Cardassian problems proved popular, though even a withdrawing Starfleet would not tolerate Cardassian aggression along the Federation border.
This led to quiet colonial expansion on their other fronts, seizing less resource-rich territory on their coreward and trailing borders. These resources were immediately poured into the military itself, but the public victory for morale was turned by Central Command into a mandate to claim further government assets and influence.
The response of the Detapa Council was to turn the reborn Obsidian Order on Central Command, who infiltrated its ranks and could staunch the military’s ascent. The years which followed were marked by these shadow wars, with the Detapa Council retaining formal authority over the Cardassian Union and using the Obsidian Order to keep Central Command in check. The military, in turn, has only grown in popularity outside of Cardassian core worlds, seen as the only entity capable of providing for the Cardassian people in wealth and pride.
The Federation Return
By the mid-2390s, the Federation had stabilised its own situation somewhat and trade agreements were arranged with the Detapa Council. Central Command saw this could lead to possible victory for the civilian government, and secretly funded pirate operations to raid these transports and undermine the trade agreements. This only grew, and by 2398, ships clearly affiliated with the Union were conducting serious raids upon large trade convoys.
The Federation recognised the unstable nature of the Cardassian government and initially withdrew from any political relationship with the Union. But while Central Command viewed this as a victory, soon they would reap the consequences of their own actions.
The Way Returns
In early 2399, ships of a Cardassian design attacked a Starfleet runabout on patrol at Hakton VII, a former world of the Demilitarized Zone now back in Federation territory. Starfleet’s initial response was to blame the Union, but Central Command denied culpability, and Obsidian Order assets confirmed this.
Before any further investigation could be launched, a second attack came, this time against a Cardassian military survey station on the border. This time a group claimed responsibility: the True Way, an old Cardassian anti-Federation extremist organisation that had been founded anew.
It became apparent the True Way consisted primarily of the forces once funded by Central Command in their initial secret raids on Federation trade ships. Cut loose of military support and resources, they had gone rogue and turned their eye on the Federation-Cardassian border, which still enjoyed extensive freedom of movement to contend with its diverse populace.
The Federation had no choice but to reopen discussions with the Detapa Council. The True Way was a threat to both governments, and risked disrupting the delicate balance of the old Demilitarized Zone. While neither government was in a position to dedicate extensive resources to the region, which had been left largely to its own devices for the past decade and a half, it was clear the True Way had to be answered lest they begin recruiting or inciting reciprocation from Federation locals who perhaps remembered their Maquis past.
As such, while diplomatic and trade agreements with the Cardassian Union remain limited, Starfleet and multiple wings of the Union government - including a highly reluctant and conflicted Central Command - have committed to cooperating in restoring stability and unity to the former Demilitarized Zone.
It is an understatement to say that Cardassian society is in a state of flux. The Dominion War was an existential shock to their principles, and the thirty years following have provided little clarity of the best way forward. As such, Cardassians are a highly disparate people, some clinging to traditions for comfort and strength where others more aggressively seek political and social reform, as well as everything in between.
It is a common Cardassian saying that ‘family is all’. The parent is the highest figure in the familial unit, which is considered a cornerstone of Cardassian society. Their homes are often multi-generational, and Cardassians place great value on the continuation of the family line.
The ideal traditional Cardassian is expected to be dedicated to both the state and their own family. This is not considered an inherent contradiction; the Cardassian family is a unit of society that works together to keep all of Cardassian society strong and loyal to the state. The potential for conflict has of course fuelled many stories, but it is telling that the most famous of these end with loyalty to the state placed above all, with familial bonds that test this allegiance considered ultimately deviant.
There has traditionally been equality between the genders, though they are encouraged towards different societal roles. Men usually enter military or political service, while scientific research and technological development are commonly the purview of men. Outliers have not been generally prejudiced against, and many such individuals have succeeded in their careers.
The state is traditionally viewed as being all-seeing, all-powerful, and without fault. Loyalty to the state is seen as the most fundamental Cardassian value, and is considered synonymous with loyalty to one’s family and one’s community. Its presence has historically been felt throughout society, directly responsible for housing, education, and social support structures.
This permeating presence has been felt nowhere more keenly than in the criminal justice system, as-yet unreformed since the Dominion War. Routinely condemned by the Federation, trials always deliver a guilty verdict and exist to demonstrate the strength of the state and the victory of justice over evil. Its defenders maintain that its detractors in the Federation judge the system by their own standards. They argue that guilt and innocence are established by the robust Cardassian criminal investigation system ahead of time, that sifting through the murky details of proving guilt should lie with experts rather than be exposed to the public. Truth, they say, has already been established by the time the accused is brought to trial.
The Treaty of Bajor re-established the Detapa Council, now a parliamentary democracy headed by its Chairman, who is also the head of state. With universal suffrage granted to all Cardassian citizens over the age of majority, this is the most significant political reform to come to the Union in centuries, and largely the result of Federation pressure at the end and during the aftermath of the Dominion War.
It has not been without controversy or limitations. The past thirty years have been beset with accusations of electoral corruption, especially since the Federation withdrawal from Cardassia in 2385. There have been difficulties with voter engagement, as many more traditional Cardassians dislike the idea they should dictate the state’s decisions. The democratic nature of the Detapa Council is also a part of Central Command’s agitation, as they believe it weakens the state.
However many Cardassians, especially younger Cardassians, have embraced the change and seek further reforms. Either from exposure to other ideas and cultures from Federation aid, or identifying the state as culpable for Cardassian suffering by allying with the Dominion, a significant proportion of society has turned away from the traditional loyalty to the state. Overall, as a people they are still communally and civically-minded. The most common state of mind for the progressive Cardassian is that it is their duty to serve the state by challenging and improving it, rather than the traditional perspective that the state was already infallible. This has brought about a new era, despite the extreme poverty in many quarters of society, of philosophy and literature to develop and perfect this image of what the ideal Cardassian should be.
While there are some who go further, championing individual freedoms and seeking even to turn from military influence and the current judicial system, they tend to be fringe figures. Often they live in the former Demilitarized Zone or near that border, and are considered to have been unduly influenced by the Federation.
Factions of the Union
The Detapa Council, headed by the Chairman, the Cardassian Head of State, is the democratically-elected civilian governing body on Cardassia Prime that is tasked with all the civilian power of the Union. The Detapa Council ostensibly represents the Cardassian people and their wishes. As elected officials they claim to coordinate efforts with the legates of the Central Command, but in reality the Central Command usually ignores the wishes of the Council.
They command the Obsidian Order, the restored Cardassian intelligence organisation. While the Order has lost much of the institutional memory of old and is not the same power it once was, it has proved effective in watching the Detapa Council’s enemies and helping the civilian government retain control.
The Central Command is the military leadership of the Cardassian Union. Operating thousands of vessels across Cardassian space the Central Command is tasked with, but not limited to, overseeing the protection of the Cardassian people, the security of its borders, national security of the Cardassian Union, exploration of unknown space, first contact with new races and civilizations, shipping and handling of cargo within the Cardassian Union, and protection of civilian freighters within Cardassian civilian owned companies.
Central Command’s leaders are largely opposed to the supremacy of the Detapa Council, feeling they have abandoned Cardassian pride and ignored the Union’s right to expand and dominate. By and large they seek to exploit the political situation to establish further control. However, this opinion is not universal, and there exist military officers who choose to respect the civilian rule of the Council.
The True Way
The pirates that Central Command had funded did not come from nowhere. They were the most desperate of Cardassian society, former military, or people who had eked out a living on the border, or young Cardassians who had grown up with little, and all of them saw other powers, especially the Federation, as responsible for the Union’s weakness. In turn, they blamed the Detapa Council for engaging with these enemies of the state.
Central Command ceased funding them when the Federation closed relations and turned their gaze on unseating the Detapa Council. This left behind a paramilitary organisation with strong ideals that had been cut loose, Central Command no longer representing their interests as they remained embroiled in internal politics. But there was one clear outlet for their agenda: the former Demilitarized Zone, now largely Federation territory with a significant Cardassian populace and Cardassian civilian interests.
They have operated in the region for several months, striking against Starfleet border protection, raiding Federation civilian assets, and making attacks against Cardassian forces on the new border which in their eyes are complicit in Federation rule of what they believe should be Cardassian territory. It is suspected, but not yet confirmed, that they may be receiving or soliciting support from Cardassian residents of the former DMZ who may be sympathetic to their agenda.
The central worlds of the Union, including Cardassia Prime, hold the seat of government, most of the Union’s political and economic infrastructure, and home the majority of the population. They were also the regions that suffered the most at the hands of the Dominion. As such, the Detapa Council has ensured these worlds received the lion’s share of Federation support in the post-war years. Reconstruction has been extensive, leading to mass migration from border worlds. This region is largely stable, and places its faith and support in the democratic government of the Detapa Council.
Border Worlds (Coreward and Trailing)
With the collapse of the Cardassian economy after the Dominion War and the funnelling of resources and opportunities to the core worlds, many Cardassians left their border colonies for these new prospects and support. Those who remained have found themselves largely forgotten by the Detapa Council, low on the government’s development priorities.
They enjoyed some attention in the post-war years as Central Command led expansionist efforts to worlds beyond these borders, finding themselves a new frontier for the Cardassian people. While the riches which came from this were limited, their sense of being pioneers of Cardassian rebirth and pride was powerful. As such, these regions are largely sympathetic to and supportive of Central Command’s vision to Cardassian dignity.
This can particularly be seen on the Coreward border, beyond which lies the Thomas Expanse. Officially a no-man’s land, it is rich in resources and rife for competition between the Union, the Breen, and the Tzenkethi.
The Federation Border and former Demilitarized Zone
The border with the Federation fell closer to Cardassia Prime than ever before after the Dominion War, the Federation reclaiming territories surrendered in the treaty signed less than a decade earlier as well as the former Demilitarized Zone. However, the Federation was mindful that many Cardassian people had settled and made lives for themselves in this region, and had learned its lesson from forced resettlement.
As such, the border has been kept open for much of the last 20 years. Cardassian citizens who settled or had family who settled on those worlds were allowed to live as residents within Federation territory. They were further granted freedom to cross the border with the Union for personal and professional reasons. This border was largely regulated and watched by Starfleet, though their presence has diminished over the past decade.
In practice, Cardassians and Federation citizens alike have lived and worked alongside each other in the old Demilitarized Zone, ostensibly under Federation rule but with little government involvement or oversight in recent years. In some places, this coexistence has been peaceful. In others, old animosities have been hard for both sides to forget.
The region was, however, stable until the return of the True Way. Their assaults on Starfleet and Cardassian forces and raids on Federation worlds for resources have seen the area more desperate to protect itself. Many peoples living there are suspicious of both governments, who have shown little interest in their ways of life until recently, and are considered largely responsible for past difficulties of the region. And still there are Cardassian residents who may resent living in their old family homes under Federation rule, and find themselves sympathetic to the True Way’s agenda.
Cardassians In Play
- The Cardassians lost a lot with the Dominion War, and are not foolish enough to think themselves a serious galactic power anymore. Their agenda is primarily retaining control over their borders, restoring their pride, and maintaining stability. Conflict over the order of these priorities, how to achieve them, and allocating their limited resources are a cause of much of their present condition.
- Formal dealings between Cardassia and the Federation occur most often along the old Demilitarized Zone. Now Federation territory, both sides are cooperating and crossing the borders to protect the Cardassian and Federation citizens who live there.
- Other areas Starfleet encounter the Cardassians are regions such as the Thomas Expanse, where the Cardassians are more assertively seeking to claim resources and territory, and know that here it is easier for both sides to ignore indiscretions.
- The divide between the Detapa Council and the Central Command means the tone of any encounter with Starfleet depends on the loyalties of those individual Cardassians. Most official dealings along the old DMZ are with Detapa Council loyalists committed to stabilising the region through genuine cooperation, but there are always outliers.
- Central Command is eager to drive the Federation from being involved with the Union. They might attack Starfleet ships if they get the chance, or more covertly try to undermine any cooperation - but they only push what they think they can get away with, through deniability or leaving no proof.