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Question about Classic episode "Balance of Terror"

Hi all. I’m running a game in The Original Series continuity. I’m having the characters hear reports about what happens in the original episodes as current events. We’ve just gotten the crew up to the events that transpire in the episode balance of Terror. My question is this. How do the events in that episode not cause a major war? The romulans are seen destroying several outposts and openly attacked the Enterprise after crossing the neutral zone. That to me seems like an overt Act of War. Why was war never declared? Any thoughts?

Wasn‘t this just one Romulan ship? I guess the Romulan government could have denied all knowledge of that mission and branded the commander an outlaw. And the Federation by default tries to avoid war, so they choose so believe the official Romulan version.


There are enough people who are opposed to war that they will seize any excuse not to go to war.
The Romulans aren’t going to declare war openly, when they move it is in probing attacks to see how far their opponent will react.
So it would fall on the Federation to actively declare war and that just isn’t something the politicians are willing to do unless there is no alternative.
As Shran says it was a single ship and the attacks stopped after it was destroyed so the Federation can claim success without risking a war.

Of course this viewpoint is what section 31 feels hobbles the Federation…

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In universe, the Federation may have realized it couldn’t hope to win a major campaign against the Romulans at the same time it was so close to war with the Klingon Empire. They seemed to be losing Constitution Class ships left and right at the time as well so they may have been in a very weak position. After the Organian Treaty, sidelines the Klingons, the UFP does get bolder with the Romulans with the Enterprise Incident. That said, there’s nothing in cannon that says Starfleet didn’t send your players’ ship to retaliate for the attacks in a limited fashion by taking out some Romulan listening posts.

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How many Constitution-class vessel have they lost at that time (early season one) of TOS? As far as I know not a single one. And Starfleet has still many ships of a whole lot of other classes and has also recovered from the last war against the Klingons.

The Federation did not start a war because thanks to the Enterprise they knew what the Romulans were trying to achieve. But this incident led to the Romulan-Klingon alliance (because the Romulans realized that their ships were no match for the new Starfleet vessels) and to the Enterprise Incident (because Starfleet Intelligence or even Section 31 wanted a working Romulan cloaking device).

All great points and thanks. It gives me a lot to go on. I’ve been trying to give the players news bulletins from the Federation News Service (the last one was written by Correspondent Tim Pennington of the Vangaurd Book Series.) This will give me a lot to go on.

It’s true that just because we don’t see Federation retaliation that it didn’t happen.

It’s hinted that Federation agents have been up to something, leading up to the Enterprise Incident.

…and it’s also true that fighting a two front war is generally to be avoided.

i’m not sure that retaliation would happen, that doesn’t seem like the federation’s style. (they prefer to seek peace, not war, and reprisals only escalate tensions towards war) but you can bet that the number of ships on the romulan border were increased and tensions ran high. which is probably why the Romulans reached out to the klingons to buy D-7’s, as the incident and the border crossing incident in “The Deadly Years” a year later illustrated to the Romulans that despite their new weapon and cloaks, they weren’t a match for federation ships.

Well, that’s one point of view.

The point of a reprisal is to deter your enemy from attacking you again, without engaging in all out war.

An attack that is allowed to pass merely invites another attack.

Remember, the Romulans attacked unprovoked already, so provocation is irrelevant.

Deterrence becomes your next strategy.

I think the film ‘In the loop’ provides an interesting counterpoint to this - how quickly things can escalate when people are playing bureaucratic games around a potential flashpoint. I do like the way Balance of Terror acknowledges the friction of cold war politics.

The Federation issues sanctions against the Romulan Star Empire? I assume there are neutral governments that deal with both cultures and Federation uses this as a reason to solidify a coalition against the Romulans, which allows them to assert an agenda of peace.

to quote from another excellent franchise:
“Where does it end? You kill them and take their land. They kill you and take the land back. On and on and on. The cycle of hatred.”

reprisals are not a reliable deterrence. they are however, from study of history, a very reliable way to escalate a situation to ever higher tensions. they attack you. you attack in retaliation. they then retaliate for your attack. and as per the concept of “retaliation as deterrence” you make the followup attack just a bit bigger, to try and intimidate your opponent. which almost never works, other than the steel the resolve of your opponent, and cause them to act to stop your attacks… which bring you right to the brink. or worse, one side or the other ends up jumping the gun and tries to pre-empt an expected attack, triggering the very war that the retaliations were ‘supposed’ to deter.

historically the only time threats of retaliation have come even close to working is when the retaliation is massive enough to be a sudden existential threat, such as during the Cold War, and even then that didn’t work in the long run, it just put both sides on a hair trigger that prevented both sides from seriously talking, and made simple hardware accidents nearly destroy all of civilization. the only reason it appeared to work at all was the fact that both sides took a defensive stance and were not inclined towards offensive action… something neither side was able to recognize at the time due to their own rhetoric and biases blinding them. it was not until the retaliation policy was dropped that actual progress towards peace was made, in the form of arms reduction treaties and such.

the federation does not have the power to be an existentialist threat to the Romulan Empire in the 23rd century. and the federation view on war is one of avoidance. as expressed in “a taste of armageddon”
" Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. "

in this case the Romulan ship was destroyed… tactically and strategically out thought, defeated by a federation ship of much greater power and capability. The romulans may have destroyed a few sensor stations but not only did they lose their most cutting edge ship but also learned that they were still no match for the federation. retaliation would be excessive, and more likely to appear as aggression on the part of the federation, at least to the romulans.

Consider too:
The Romulans have reappeared.
The Romulans have an effective cloaking device.
Their Plasma Torpedo is devastating.
Romulans and Vulcans share a history.

All of this would be classified information and not disseminated by a “Federation News Service”.
How long the Federation held on to this knowledge would be hard to say, certainly the Vulcan/Romulan heritage would have been the first to go.

Your Federation News Service should only be privy to whatever’s “common” knowledge. (The flying parasites, the doomsday machine, the giant space ameoba, etc.) In other words, stuff that affected the general public.

We may hear about a couple of ships being sent to the South China Sea but we’ve no clue as to their mission’s objectives or results.


Mind you, the Romulans would not have been able to determine the fate of said vessel. The mission failed, reason: unknown.

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I think, it is pretty simple. At the end of the episode, no one wanted war. The Romulans don’t know what happened (remember the Romulan captain never reported back) but they know their ship was destroyed, and so their technology wasn’t as effective as they thought. Starfleet NEVER wants war if they can help it. I assume after this episode, Starfleet diplomats contacted the Romulan Star Empire and said “We found your ship, we destroyed it. Don’t pull that again.” Actually, you could build a session around that. . .

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Except it kind of is. One single starship is an existential threat, really, if you consider the implications of the technology.

All you need to do is get a ship into orbit and you can destroy a planet, any planet, even a heavily-defended homeworld, as long as you don’t care if the ship and crew come home.

Crashing a ship into a planet at warp speed would be catastrophic. Even if you discount that because of how warp travel works, a half million tons of starship at high impulse (say 9/10 light speed) would shatter a planet. Or forget that; just self-destruct and blow all the antimatter.

And that’s without even getting into the suggestion in some of the early TOS novels that merely entering warp too close to a star will cause it to go nova…

Now, maybe the Federation would never consider such a thing. But why wouldn’t the Klingons? Or the Romulans? Or the Orions? And, heck, you could always set the destruct on a timer and the crew could bail out in a shuttle just before impact (or at least tell the crew that’s the plan, anyway).

It’s one of those things they just don’t consider on any of the shows but it’s a logical implication if you have ships that travel at hundreds of times lightspeed and are loaded with hundreds of kilograms of antimatter.

I almost think there has to be some interstellar equivalent of the Geneva Convention or something that every warp culture signs onto forbidding the use of warp capable ships as weapons of planetary destruction, and we just never heard about it on screen.

Also remember that the federation had a LOT of advantages over the Romulans. In that first episode, the Romulan bird-of-prey is slow (Scotty got a scan of it and says that there is ‘no question’ that the Enterprise is faster.) And, while their weapon is basically a one-shot kill, it is big and slow. The Enterprise is able to OUTRUN it. Compare that to the Enterprise’s phasers, which can be rapid-fired and you can’t casually outrun them by going in reverse. Also, the bird-of-prey is constantly worries about its fuel reserves and by the end of the episode their energy is all spent. Meanwhile the Enterprise has been going strong with no sign of power being any concern, and it is safe to assume they weren’t even topped off at the start of the episode.

So in conclusion, the Romulans have a big, one-shot weapon that can be avoided, their ships are slow and stealthy (but somewhat detectable by federation sensors) and their power cores are extremly limited. I think the federation stands a chance against the Romulans if they went to war at that particular moment.

There is a similar problem in the Traveller universe.

Every single starship is a potential weapon of mass destruction… yet for all the wars and terrorism, you never hear of anyone crashing a Free Trader into a Highport or planet at a significant fraction of c… which should be easy to do.

Same with Trek. There are FTL ships, and anti-matter weapons and disintegration weapons… plus things like giant asteroids that could be accelerated with Trek’s reactionless impulse engines… but nobody does it.

We saw that on screen it’s possible to nova a star with a starship, just done differently.

Can you hint to an episode? I’d like to re-watch this to steal from for some plot I plan… :smiley:

DS9: Shadows and Symbols

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