The Cardassian Union, also referred to as the Cardassian Empire, is an interstellar political entity in the Alpha Quadrant, headed by the civilian Detapa Council and the military Central Command, based on planet Cardassia Prime. Although the Cardassian Union was referred to as an "empire" on more than one occasion, little if anything is known about which races (aside from, for some decades, the Bajorans) the Cardassians have conquered in their imperial ambitions. Prior to joining the Dominion the Cardassians had no strong allies among other major powers but enjoyed comparatively good relations with various non-aligned species, such as the Lissepians.
The Obsidian Order is a Cardassian intelligence organization of the Union. Security Chief Odo of Deep Space 9 remarked that it was one of the most brutally efficient organizations in the galaxy. It even rivaled that of the Romulan Tal Shiar. The Order kept very close tabs on all Cardassian citizens to ensure loyalty, and was greatly feared. It was said that the average Cardassian could not sit down to dinner without the contents of the said meal being noted and logged by the Order. Odo also noted that the Order caused people to disappear for even less than eating something of which the Order did not approve, although this statement may have just been an exaggeration for effect. The Obsidian Order's agent training program is so advanced that they are made immune to most forms of interrogation, including Vulcan.
The Obsidian Order frequently clashed with Central Command (the Cardassian military), partly because even the highest ranking Command officers are not immune from Order inquiries. According to the Cardassian governmental charter, the Order is expressly forbidden from developing or possessing military equipment of any kind. Elim Garak was a member of the Order, before being exiled from Cardassia to Deep Space Nine by his father, Enabran Tain. Tain had retired for a time, the only director to ever live long enough to do so. Garak became an ally of the Federation who used his knowledge to aid them in the war against the Dominion. In 2371, the Obsidian Order and their Romulan equivalent, the Tal Shiar, allied in an attempt to destroy the Dominion. To this end, the Order began stockpiling a fleet of ships, even though its governmental charter strictly forbade it from possessing or developing military equipment of any kind. The plan, originated by Tain, involved a fleet of cloaked Romulan and Cardassian vessels traversing into the heart of Dominion territory in the Gamma Quadrant where they would annihilate the homeworld of the Founders.
The Founders soon learned of the plan and saw it as an opportunity to eliminate the two dangerous organizations. When the Romulan/Cardassian fleet arrived at the Founders' homeworld, they bombarded it, only to realize that the planet was deserted except for a token beacon. Moments later, the Dominion sprung the trap they arranged and a fleet of 150 Jem'Hadar fighters emerged from hiding in a nearby nebula and proceeded to wipe out the fleet. At least a few Romulan and Cardassian officers survived to be taken prisoner. Tain himself survived for two years in a Dominion internment camp before dying of heart failure. The disastrous results of this attack (and perhaps fear that the Order had clearly become too independent) led to the downfall of the Obsidian Order. The downfall of the Obsidian Order is thought to have contributed to a political shakeup that led to the renewed empowerment of the Detapa Council. This in turn paved the way for invasion of Cardassia by the Klingon Empire and eventual Dominion membership. After Cardassia joined the Dominion, an organization similar to the Obsidian was formed, which was called the Cardassian Intelligence Bureau.
Cardassian military ranks are similar to those used by the Federation, but with some key differences. For example, a Legate is similar to an Admiral, but with considerably more political sway.
The Cardassian Central Command uses a system of hierarchical ranks, which is the same for all branches of the service. A garresh is the lowest-ranked soldier, the rank where all new recruits start. Garresh make up the vast bulk of the military. They are individually ranked on a five-number scale. The lowest commissioned rank is that of gil (sometimes seen as kel), followed by glinn, dalin, dal, and gul.
Officers must generally hold a rank of at least glinn to be given command of a department on board a starship or within a unit. Larger vessels and units require dalin or dal level officers. Guls are the rough equivalent of Starfleet captains. They are the majority of the commanding officers in Central Command, controlling starships and bases, and serving as prefects and planetary governors throughout the client worlds of the Union. Many guls are quite influential, building up extensive vesala networks. Jaguls and Legates are the equivalent of Starfleet admirals, commanding entire Battalions and Orders.
Gorr is a Cardassian military rank title, one of the lowest named ranks in use in the 24th century by the Cardassian Guard agency of the Cardassian Central Command.
Garresh make up the vast bulk of the military. Garresh is a Cardassian enlisted rank title which, in translation to Federation Standard, is approximately equivalent to a non-commissioned officer of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet.
Gil (sometimes seen as Kel) is a Cardassian officer rank title which, in translation to Federation Standard, is approximately equivalent to an ensign of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet. Gil is either a non-commissioned officer or junior officer rank. Space stations typically carry enough lifeboats only for personnel down to, and including, the rank of Gil.
Glinn is a Cardassian officer rank title which, in translation to Federation Standard, is approximately equivalent to a lieutenant of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet. Glinn is a staff officer rank.
Dalin is a Cardassian officer rank title which, in translation to Federation Standard, is approximately equivalent to a lieutenant commander of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet. The title of dalin was in use in the 24th century by the Cardassian Guard agency of the Cardassian Central Command.
Dal is a Cardassian officer rank title which, in translation to Federation Standard, is approximately equivalent to a commander of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet.
Gul is a Cardassian officer rank title which, in translation to Federation Standard, is approximately equivalent to a ship's captain of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet. Gul is a command officer rank. Guls hold command ranging in size from vessels to Orders (approx. 500,000 personnel).
Jagul is a Cardassian flag officer rank title which, in translation to Federation Standard, is approximately equivalent to a commodore or rear admiral of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet.
Legate is a 24th century Cardassian officer rank title which is approximately equivalent to an admiral of comparable military or naval service organizations, such as Starfleet. Legate is the highest rank in the Cardassian military, and while it resembles the rank of Admiral in some respects, it is more of a political position than a rank. Since the Cardassian government is a military-controlled stratocracy, Legates serve both military and governmental functions simultaneously.
Known Cardassian starships include the Cardassian starships, a medium-sized cruiser which, throughout The Next Generation, was the most powerful vessel in Cardassian service. The Galor is armed with two large phaser cannons (possibly plasma cannon), one forward and one aft. They are also armed with numerous secondary phaser cannons mounted at other points across the hull, and they may carry a complement of photon torpedoes. Estimates vary, but it is thought a Galor class vessel would be roughly comparable to a Federation Excelsior-class in a conflict. According to some with an eye for detail, it is unclear how a fleet of such ships would be powerful enough to seriously threaten the Federation. It has been speculated that the Galor Class (and perhaps the entire Cardassian fleet) was, at some point after its introduction, upgraded. However, it can also be intuited that Cardassian technological deficits could be balanced by superior numbers and/or exceptional tactical cunning. Given that the Cardassian fleet is almost entirely optimized for military operations (unlike Starfleet) it could be surmised that they have larger numbers of these pure warships than the Federation. It is believed that Galor-class ships are weaker than later Federation vessels, so that it takes at least two Galors to seriously challenge a large starship like a Galaxy-class vessels.
A more powerful Cardassian ship is the Keldon class starship (which is similar to the Galor-class with more defined aft wings and a large trapezoidal pod atop the main hull). This ship class is assumed to be comparable to the Galaxy-class in tactical capability; why they have not been seen in greater numbers is uncertain. However, the Federation only built a handful of Galaxy-class vessels itself so perhaps large numbers of the similarly advanced Keldon should not be expected. The Cardassian Obsidian Order kept a fleet of Keldon class starships which were used in conjunction with the Romulan Tal Shiar during the sneak attack in the Omarion Nebula.
The Cardassians have also been known to operate small attack craft such as the Hideki class scout. It is a small attack craft composed of a semi-elliptical fore with a short aft extension ending in a pincer-shaped disruptor weapon. Due to the ship's limited offensive power the Hideki class is confined to border patrol duties during peace time. During the Dominion War the class was present in several major conflicts, they operate in large groups and swarm enemy ships, this allows them to overpower much heavier vessels. All Cardassian warships seen so far are painted ochre, and have backwards-swept delta winged hulls , delta wings resemble fins, giving the Cardassian ships the appearance of predatory rays.
Cardassian computers utilize data encoded on isolinear rods, in contrast to discs used for similar purposes by human-designed computers.
In Cardassia's early history, its inhabitants were a peaceful and spiritual people. In the days of the First Hebitian Civilization, the Cardassians collected works of art from all over the Alpha Quadrant and the planet boasted a vast wealth of art and culture; the people were said to have elaborate burial vaults with unimaginable treasures. However, Cardassia's lack of natural resources caused terrible famine, and the Hebitian civilization fell into decay. Its ruins were plundered by starving Cardassians who sought to sell whatever they could to provide for themselves. A military dictatorship soon came to power, building fleets of warships and invading nearby worlds. Of particular note is Bajor which was occupied for fifty years, and the end of whose Bajor destabilized the Cardassian government. Cardassia has been warp-capable since Earth date 1952 CE.
The date of first contact between the Cardassians and Starfleet is unknown, but is likely to have occurred mid-to-late 22nd century, as a Cardassian exile, Iloja of Prim, lived on Vulcan during that time period. Sometime before 2347 the Cardassians attempted to expand into Federation territory and war broke out, lasting around twenty years. Captain Edward Jellico spearheaded successful attempts by Starfleet to negotiate a peace treaty which ended the war.
Shortly after the Cardassians withdrew from Bajor, a Federation presence was established aboard Terok Nor, renamed Deep Space 9, to assist the Bajoran Provisional Government in rebuilding Bajor. However, the Federation officers discovered a wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant close to the station (Emissary). Roughly four months later, the Federation-Cardassian borders were redefined, with the two sides buffered by a demilitarized zone. However, the new border treaty gave Cardassia control of several worlds inhabited by Federation colonists and the Federation colonies inhabited by Cardassians. Disgruntled colonists in the area, feeling that their opinions and wishes had been ignored by both sides, formed a resistance movement known as the Maquis.
In January of 2372 (Stardate 49011) the Klingons attacked the Cardassian Union, believing the of Cardassia (which had just come to power in the wake of the Cardassian Central Command being overthrown, making it the first civilian government of the Cardassian Union with Gul Dukat as military advisor) had been infiltrated by the Dominion The attack was led by General Martok who, it turned out, had been himself replaced by a Founder one of the leaders of the Dominion.
Then, sometime between October 2372 and February 2373, with a Dominion attack on Deep Space Nine imminent, Gul Dukat announced the Cardassian Union's entry into the Dominion, shocking not only the Federation but most Cardassians as well. At the same time, Gul Dukat announced his ascension as leader of the Cardassian Union. Five days later, nearly the entire Maquis movement was slaughtered by the Dominion (except for those on the USS Voyager, that was lost in the Delta Quadrant at the time). Otherwise, nearly all the other Maquis who had not died were in Federation prisons.
The Cardassians (as members of the Dominion) captured DS9 but the Federation managed to block the Bajoran wormhole with self-replicating mines, preventing the Dominion from sending reinforcements from the Gamma Quadrant.
Under the leadership of Damar, the Cardassian Union, along with the Dominion, continued to gain ground over the Klingon-Federation alliance, and even after Benjamin Sisko and Garak tricked the Romulans into breaking their nonaggression treaty with the Dominion and joining the alliance they still managed to keep the upper hand.
A major figure in Cardassian history is Tret Akleen, revered as the "father" of the Cardassian Union. During the Dominion War, Akleen's family home lay in Dominion controlled space; Elim Garak suggested that recapturing it would lead to a major propaganda victory for Federation forces.
Opposition to the Dominion
Damar, however, was not happy. While he had hoped that Cardassia's joining the Dominion would strengthen their power, he felt that they were no longer in control of even their own planet, having to report to the Dominion representative Weyoun and the Changeling Founders, and Cardassian troops were being sacrificed seemingly meaninglessly without his permission. For a time, Damar sank into heavy drinking. Shortly after the Breen joined the Dominion, almost guaranteeing the Dominion's victory, Damar organized a revolt but was betrayed by a man he approached in order to bring into the conspiracy. A Cardassian named Broca became Legate and puppet ruler of Cardassia with his information, and after treason within the Revolt, the Dominion crushed it and forced Damar into hiding.
The revolt started out as just a small legion of troops headed by Damar, but during the final assault on The Dominion over Cardassia Prime by the Federation-Klingon-Romulan alliance, Damar managed to get an open revolt started on Cardassia itself. In response to Cardassian citizens engaging in acts sabotage, the Dominion punished the Cardassians by destroying Lakarian City killing millions of men, women, and children in the process of reducing it to ashes. As a result, the Cardassian fleet switched sides during battle and assisted the alliance, opening a hole in the Dominion lines and forcing the Jem'Hadar and the Breen to establish a new defense perimeter around Cardassia Prime itself. When word of the fleet's defection reached the Dominion command center, the Female Changeling ordered every Cardassian on the planet killed.
With the Cardassian fleet helping the alliance and the rebel's attack on the Dominion headquarters on Cardassia, the Dominion surrendered, ending the Dominion War.
The Cardassian cost due to the Dominion War was the highest of all the major powers. The homeworld was severely damaged by the Dominion, whose Founders ordered a "scorched earth" approach to the Cardassians' homeworld for their betrayal during the final battle of the war. The long term effect on the ecology of the planet remains to be seen. Over 800 million Cardassians died on Cardassia alone.
In a parallel universe visited by Worf in 2370, the Cardassian Empire was overthrown by the Bajorans. In this same universe, a Cardassian served as the conn officer of the USS Enterprise-D, suggesting an alliance between the Empire and the Federation.
In one alternate timeline set after 2375 which was created by the formation of the Red Wormhole and the start of the War of the Prophets; the Cardassian Union and its people would be destroyed by the Grigari and the Bajoran Ascendancy. The Hub worlds and the Union Territories would be destroyed and by the year 2400 there was nothing left of the Union beyond scattered groups of mercenaries, refugees and madmen.