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View Full Version : Various "Federations" - Bad Sociology?



Ilya
2005-Dec-25, 09:39 PM
The following is a fairly common situation in SF universes: A “federation of planets” of some kind (usually all-human) does not exactly enforce peace between member planets, but prevents armed conflicts from getting out of hand. In Joe Haldeman’s “There Is No Darkness” the federation prohibits space battles, but allows members to fight each other on desert planets. (The point of such fighting escapes me. Even if one side runs out of men or materiel, how are the winners going to dictate or enforce terms if they are not allowed to land on the losers’ territory?) In Joel Rosenberg’s Metzada books (“Hero”, “Not for Glory”, etc.) the Thousand Worlds monitors all transfers of military technology to ensure that all fights are “fair” – if one warring side has only swords and bows, the other is not allowed to import anything more advanced, - even as TW observers in powered armor are watching the show. In David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe Solarian League does something similar - its rules are less restrictive (no large-scale orbital attacks on planets), but are enforced just as relentlessly.

My problem with all this – it is completely unrealistic. In order to enforce such rules, the Federation (or whatever it is called) must be immensely more powerful than any single member or any coalition likely to arise. It is clearly not “UN writ large”. Then what exactly is Federation? And who pays for its military machine? (All examples I mentioned or seen have recognizable monetary economies.)

If Federation is a voluntary association with all members willingly chipping in money and soldiers to its military, then it is an unsustainable arrangement. At least some members hate each other enough to fight wars – how long are they going to pay for the very force that ties them down? Either they will leave the Federation entirely, or use their own contributions to bargain a more advantageous position for themselves. So Federation can not be a voluntary association.

And that leaves - an involuntary association. In other words, an Empire. An Empire pays for its military by taxing members/subjects whether they want it or not, and it places whatever restrictions it likes on their commerce and mutual squabbles. But in that case, the amount of violence all those SF “federations” DO permit is completely unrealistic. Monopoly on violence – not just on bigger and better weapons, - has been a hallmark of every empire in human history. Whenever two tribes with history of mutual hostility got incorporated into an empire – whether Rome or USSR, - the law was “End it or else!” Not “Henceforth you are only allowed to fight with knives no longer than 4 inches” or some such. That’s what always annoyed me about these kinds of “federations”.

BTW, a two-tier Federation is conceivable. A voluntary association of rich high-tech members who collectively maintain its military and never have any reason to fight each other, while low-tech worlds which DO fight are being censored whether they want to or not. Indeed, Rosenberg implies something like that in Metzada books. While possible, I find it against human nature. If high-tech worlds managed to end war among themselves AND exercise the kind of control over low-tech ones portrayed in “Not For Glory”, they will want to STOP, not LIMIT all war among the low-tech ones “for their own good” - and to prevent them from accumulating enough military expertise ever to become a threat. And Weber’s Solarian League (ship to ship fusion missiles okay, orbital strikes on cities – sorry!) is completely absurd.

HenrikOlsen
2005-Dec-25, 09:46 PM
Why find it absurd, it's almost exactly like the world we have at the moment.
All those stories are written, at least partially, to comment on the world of now

Ilya
2005-Dec-25, 10:09 PM
Why find it absurd, it's almost exactly like the world we have at the moment.
All those stories are written, at least partially, to comment on the world of now
I disagree. First, a lot of these stories, including Rosenberg's and Haldeman's, were written during Cold War - they could not comment on today's world, and do not resemble the world of 1980's in the least.

Second, they do not resemble today's world all that much either. UN is almost powerless to enforce anything, and while US and its allies come close to what I described above as "high-tech tier", they still do not exercise nearly as much control over "low-tech tier" as in the books -- and in places where they DO have that much control, they actually stop the fighting, not limit it.

Besides, what I called absurd is Weber's Solarian League -- a modern equivalent would be India and Pakistan fighting an all-out war without interference, yet both getting flattened by UN to which they pay dues, not by US if they escalate to nuclear. The League is an association, not a separate superpower.

Krel
2005-Dec-25, 10:16 PM
BTW, a two-tier Federation is conceivable. A voluntary association of rich high-tech members who collectively maintain its military and never have any reason to fight each other, while low-tech worlds which DO fight are being censored whether they want to or not. Indeed, Rosenberg implies something like that in Metzada books. While possible, I find it against human nature. If high-tech worlds managed to end war among themselves AND exercise the kind of control over low-tech ones portrayed in “Not For Glory”, they will want to STOP, not LIMIT all war among the low-tech ones “for their own good” - and to prevent them from accumulating enough military expertise ever to become a threat. And Weber’s Solarian League (ship to ship fusion missiles okay, orbital strikes on cities – sorry!) is completely absurd.

Sounds like the Alliance, the government in the "Firefly" series and "Serenity" movie.

David.

Daniel H.
2005-Dec-26, 07:23 AM
In David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe Solarian League does something similar - its rules are less restrictive (no large-scale orbital attacks on planets), but are enforced just as relentlessly.

My problem with all this – it is completely unrealistic. In order to enforce such rules, the Federation (or whatever it is called) must be immensely more powerful than any single member or any coalition likely to arise. It is clearly not “UN writ large”. Then what exactly is Federation? And who pays for its military machine? (All examples I mentioned or seen have recognizable monetary economies.)

Got to disagree with you on the example from Weber. The Solarian League is bigger than anyone else around. It's military machine gets payed for the same way any nations does. And the no bombardment thing isn't some rule they made up to make others be civilized, it's a foriegn policy made after one of their worlds with a population in the billions got wiped out in an attack that didn't even call for surrender. After that the League decided that anyone else that thought tactics along those lines were a good idea was someone that they weren't going to be leaving alive.


And Weber’s Solarian League (ship to ship fusion missiles okay, orbital strikes on cities – sorry!) is completely absurd.

Nuking peoples bases from orbit because they just don't know when to give up is fine. Nuking their cities just because you can isn't. It's not the weapons they have an issue with, it's the tactics. They want everyone to know that if you carpet bombarde a densely populated continent until the whole thing is radioactive cinders, they will come down on you like the wrath of god. And by doing so, they discourage anyone from even thinking of doing it to them again.

Charly
2005-Dec-26, 07:28 AM
In reality, there is no advantage to be gained when an advanced (rich) society declares war on another advanced society.

Its always been more prudent to trade, and I think we will see even less wars on a national scale in the future.

On the otherhand wars between lower tech (poor) societys are good for the higher tech, as they are the ones who profit from arms deals, whereas the lower tech societys feel they have nothing to loose fighting a war anyway.

Wars can be very profitable if you dont have to fight in them. Consider the US during the 1st half of WW2, selling arms to the Allies and Russians

HenrikOlsen
2005-Dec-26, 11:31 AM
Consider the US (and all other weapon producing countries) for the last half of the 20th century, as well as all we've seen so far of the 21st.
The policy of allowing minor localised wars until they threaten the neighbours or important resources isn't new, didn't go away with the cold war and is the one I meant when I said the books describe "now". The books may have been written 40 years ago, but the world hasn't changed enough since to make them irrelevant.

parallaxicality
2005-Dec-26, 12:10 PM
The closest ananlogue to the Federation in the current world is the European Union; or at least the European Union as envisioned in the failed Constitution. A group of independent states united by shared borders and trade, and also governed by a high council. The EU doesn't work, at least not effectively, but it's still here, and it's still getting bigger. Already the EU is beginning to unify its defence forces, and soon it will have a single foreign minister.

Nationhood is an entirely subjective notion; just because one state in the US decides not to attack another doesn't mean it CAN'T. It's millitary decides that it is the military of a United States, largely because the people in charge of the US ensure that it decides it. The Civil War shows just how fragile the concept of any political union really is.

Disinfo Agent
2005-Dec-27, 12:19 PM
My problem with all this – it is completely unrealistic. In order to enforce such rules, the Federation (or whatever it is called) must be immensely more powerful than any single member or any coalition likely to arise. It is clearly not “UN writ large”. Then what exactly is Federation? And who pays for its military machine? (All examples I mentioned or seen have recognizable monetary economies.)

If Federation is a voluntary association with all members willingly chipping in money and soldiers to its military, then it is an unsustainable arrangement. At least some members hate each other enough to fight wars – how long are they going to pay for the very force that ties them down? Either they will leave the Federation entirely, or use their own contributions to bargain a more advantageous position for themselves. So Federation can not be a voluntary association.

And that leaves - an involuntary association. In other words, an Empire. An Empire pays for its military by taxing members/subjects whether they want it or not, and it places whatever restrictions it likes on their commerce and mutual squabbles. But in that case, the amount of violence all those SF “federations” DO permit is completely unrealistic. Monopoly on violence – not just on bigger and better weapons, - has been a hallmark of every empire in human history. Whenever two tribes with history of mutual hostility got incorporated into an empire – whether Rome or USSR, - the law was “End it or else!” Not “Henceforth you are only allowed to fight with knives no longer than 4 inches” or some such. That’s what always annoyed me about these kinds of “federations”.I have not read the books you mentioned at the start of your post, but I disagree that a Federation such as the one you describe can't be voluntary, and thus must be immensely more powerful than its members. Having rules in war is neither irrational nor unprecedented. Here's an example of a type of conflict which started out no-holds-barred, but gradually developped rules of its own. (http://www.nationaljousting.com/history/medieval.htm)

The rationale can be the following: We don't live an ideal world, so wars are a given, but one thing we can do is agree to limit the damage caused by wars as much as we can, and to minimise the unavoidable pain brought by them.


In reality, there is no advantage to be gained when an advanced (rich) society declares war on another advanced society.

Its always been more prudent to trade, and I think we will see even less wars on a national scale in the future.

On the otherhand wars between lower tech (poor) societys are good for the higher tech, as they are the ones who profit from arms deals, whereas the lower tech societys feel they have nothing to loose fighting a war anyway.

Wars can be very profitable if you dont have to fight in them. Consider the US during the 1st half of WW2, selling arms to the Allies and RussiansThere's another kind of potentially profitable war: between an 'advanced' power and a 'lower tech' one.


The closest ananlogue to the Federation in the current world is the European Union; or at least the European Union as envisioned in the failed Constitution. A group of independent states united by shared borders and trade, and also governed by a high council. The EU doesn't work, at least not effectively, but it's still here, and it's still getting bigger. Already the EU is beginning to unify its defence forces, and soon it will have a single foreign minister.One of the objectives of the E.U. and its predecessors was to put an end to war, at least within its own borders. So far, it has been sucessful at that.

Alasdhair
2005-Dec-27, 03:11 PM
Got to disagree with you on the example from Weber. The Solarian League is bigger than anyone else around. It's military machine gets payed for the same way any nations does. And the no bombardment thing isn't some rule they made up to make others be civilized, it's a foriegn policy made after one of their worlds with a population in the billions got wiped out in an attack that didn't even call for surrender. After that the League decided that anyone else that thought tactics along those lines were a good idea was someone that they weren't going to be leaving alive.



Nuking peoples bases from orbit because they just don't know when to give up is fine. Nuking their cities just because you can isn't. It's not the weapons they have an issue with, it's the tactics. They want everyone to know that if you carpet bombarde a densely populated continent until the whole thing is radioactive cinders, they will come down on you like the wrath of god. And by doing so, they discourage anyone from even thinking of doing it to them again.

There's also the point that the Solarian League does not include all the inhabited star system: the Star Kingdom(Empire) of Manticore, the (People's) Republic of Haven, the Anderman Empire and the various polities of Silesia, in fact just about everyonne mentioned in the books are entirely separate from the League.

Ilya
2005-Dec-28, 03:21 AM
In retrospect I suppose Solarian League is a poor example -- its rules are more akin to modern Geneva Convention, although with much more unanimous enforcement. But Joel Rosenberg's universe is the perfect example -- I can not reconcile the degree of control Thousand Worlds posesses ("Thousand Worlds" is a singular, BTW) with how much violence it permits. TW has complete veto power over all interstellar commerce -- it can ban any planet from importing anything*, which is not far from controlling every world's economy. I simply can not believe that someone who has that much control would exercise it so little.

*Not to say that smuggling and customs cheating do not occur, but successful cheating is rare enough to be some major plot points.