Published Oct 23, 2020
How the United Nations Helped Shape the Federation
On UN Day we’re looking at how the United Nations influenced Star Trek and how Trek fans can return the favor
By Christian Kriticos
Today (October 24) is UN Day, an annual celebration of the aims and achievements of the United Nations. It’s a date that many Trek fans likely overlook. Coming as close as it does to Halloween, we’re often too busy perfecting our Khan Noonien Singh and Borg Queen costumes.
But it’s a date that’s important for all of us to observe. Particularly this year, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the UN.
Over these last 75 years, the UN has been the world’s leading organization for the promotion of peace, security, and human rights on Earth. It has helped to fight disease and famine, and has brought peacekeeping missions to areas of conflict around the world.
But the UN has also had an intergalactic influence, inspiring the fictional history and ethos of the United Federation of Planets in the Star Trek universe.
Although the UN officially came into being 75 years ago, it had a long history before that. It was preceded by the League of Nations – the first worldwide intergovernmental organization – which was founded in the aftermath of the First World War.
Two decades later, at the height of the Second World War, the allied forces saw the need for a new coalition of nations. The name “United Nations” was coined by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was formalized by 26 nations in the Declaration By United Nations in 1942. From there it would take three more years before the organization would officially come into existence, with the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco by 50 nations, followed by the official birth of the organization on October 24, 1945.
For fans of Star Trek: Enterprise, this brief overview may sound somewhat familiar, mirroring similar events in the show’s fourth season arc, which sees Captain Archer and his crew play an instrumental role in the foundation of the United Federation of Planets.
For instance, just as the UN had a precursor in the League of Nations, the Federation is preceded by the Coalition of Planets. And, just as the League Nations was formed in the aftermath of World War I, the Coalition of Planets is born out of the Babel Crisis – a conflict with the Romulan Star Empire, which draws together several planetary forces as allies for the first time.
The final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise jumps forward six years from this point, when the Coalition of Planets has evolved into the United Federation of Planets, following another conflict with the Romulans. The episode memorably concludes with Captain Archer signing the Federation Charter in San Francisco in 2161, just as the UN Charter was signed in the same city 216 years earlier.
But the influence of the UN on Star Trek extends far beyond this Enterprise season four storyline. For example, the Federation emblem – one of the most recognizable designs in the Star Trek universe – looks very inspired by the UN emblem. Both feature the olive branch of peace, but the Federation design expands on the globe of the UN with a cluster of planets.
For those with a quick finger over the pause button, an even more subtle sign of UN influence can be seen in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Void." In this episode, Captain Janeway consults the Federation Charter and a glimpse of the text can briefly be seen onscreen. The words are taken directly from the UN Charter, with only small changes made to expand it from a human-centered viewpoint to an interplanetary one. Comparing these two passages gives an idea of the similarities between the charters, which aim to:
“reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small” (Charter of the United Nations)
“reaffirm faith in the fundamental rights of sentient beings, in the dignity and worth of all lifeforms, in the equal rights of members of planetary systems large and small” (Charter of the United Federation of Planets)
With its origins in unification during times of crisis, alongside the olive branch of peace of its emblem, and the rights-based approach of its founding charter, it is clear that the UN has offered significant inspiration to Star Trek’s Federation and its vision of a more peaceful and equal future.
But now, on this 75th anniversary, perhaps Star Trek fans can return the favor.
This year’s UN Day is themed around ‘Shaping Our Future Together’ and hopes to inspire “a large and inclusive global conversation on the role of global cooperation in building the future we want.” So far this year, the UN has consulted over one million people on their hopes for the future. Some of the main hopes that have been highlighted are for greater international solidarity and an end to poverty and inequality.
But there is still time to have your views heard if you want to take part. By visiting the official UN75 website, you can take part in a one-minute survey to help shape the future priorities of the UN and its member states.
Star Trek fans have always had a particularly optimistic vision of the future. This UN Day we have a chance to help shape that vision into a reality. Just as the United Nations has inspired Star Trek, Star Trek can in turn inspire the United Nations – by helping to direct our global priorities towards creating a more unified, peaceful, and equal world.
A Timeline Through the Star Trek Universe
Christian Kriticos is a freelance writer with degrees in English from Durham University (UK) and Northwestern University. He is currently based in London, England and has previously lived in Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Scotland.