Space Opera without wars (Space Guard instead of Space Navies)

Adam Reynolds

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So space opera always involves various sorts of large scale conflict in space, and while that does lead to interesting conflicts, I was contemplating the question of what that would look like without actual wars being an option. Instead of more military themed fiction, it would be about espionage and diplomacy, as well as the overlapping field of law enforcement. Given the current trend that wars are getting less frequent and less bloody, and extrapolating this further, there is not much of a chance that full scale wars between Earth and Mars are ever going to happen. Especially considering that tossing asteroids around would be quite easy, and serve as an extremely cheap and accessible equivalent to nuclear weapons, as anyone with an engine could throw them around, while tracking and intercepting them would require vastly more resources. Especially when one considers the fact that there would already be asteroids being moved for engineering purposes.

Spies, cops, and diplomats instead of soldiers is sort of what I am thinking. Instead of drawing upon World War Two as the default source of inspiration, why not draw upon a sort of space opera closer to The Hunt for Red October and Mission Impossible. Action is mostly about a mix of espionage and intrigue, with anything larger scale almost entirely about posturing rather than actually doing anything, which would make larger armies increasingly less useful. Violence would then be operating at a smaller scale, closer to a slightly more militarized Coast Guard cutter than a real warship(though the equivalents to machine guns and light cannon would still be lasers and railguns).

This is a rather under explored possibility. Such an organization, based on some sort of mix between the Coast Guard and Port Authority, for lack of a better term the Space Guard. Given the asteroid problem mentioned above, they would be necessary for that if nothing else, as well as to regulate traffic in Earth Orbit. Such a body would also have to be an international one, as no nation could have exclusive control over it for it to work, which just might also make it a sort of default international police force as such a need arose. If you had a sufficiently clever bureaucrat in the process like Robert Moses(who created the NY/NJ Port Authority and much of modern NYC without having been elected), it just might actually be possible.

So how might a world like this work? Is there any actual plausibility to it?
 

Anfelas

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This is a lot like the original intent behind the Lensmen series Galactic Patrol organisation. The Special Circumpstance branch of the Culture's Contact organisation may fir the bill too.
 

Gareth3

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The implications of not having stealth in space might be important here. If everyone always knows how powerful both sides are, it's possible you never get an actual war. Both sides just study the other side with telescopes, run the data through a simulation, and whichever side is going to lose surrenders before a shot is fired. But it's much easier to conceal a spaceship factory than a spaceship flying through space, if you have a planet to build it on. So the conflict switches to espionage and sabotage, trying to find out how powerful the other side is before the ships are launched, and slow down their production.
 

ajdynon

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Of course, there's always Star Trek to draw from. I guess Trek hasn't been particularly big for a long enough time that the OP isn't particularly familiar with it, but TV Tropes has a good summary of Starfleet:

TV Tropes said:
Starfleet is both a military and an exploration and research organization, also acting as top-level law enforcement and the advance scouts and bodyguards of The Federation's diplomatic corps and intelligence network. It is a conglomeration of the US Navy and Coast Guard, the USMC, the FBI, the CIA, the Department of State, the United Nations, NASA and a few research universities; a captain may need to think like Colin Powell or like Jacques Cousteau—or all of these may apply at once.
 

T. Canoehead

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Traveller's Third Imperium has this, sort of. Instead of the Imperial Navy, look at the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service. Exploration, diplomacy, espionage, courier duty, jack of all trades, all with smaller ships with smaller crews. Depending on how much you want to stick with canon (and there's a reason why In My Traveller Universe. or IMTU exists), you could just play up the cold war between the Imperium and its neighbours, especially the Zhodani in the Spinward Marches and the Solomani in the Solomani Rim.
 

s/LaSH

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The implications of not having stealth in space might be important here. If everyone always knows how powerful both sides are, it's possible you never get an actual war. Both sides just study the other side with telescopes, run the data through a simulation, and whichever side is going to lose surrenders before a shot is fired. But it's much easier to conceal a spaceship factory than a spaceship flying through space, if you have a planet to build it on. So the conflict switches to espionage and sabotage, trying to find out how powerful the other side is before the ships are launched, and slow down their production.
This is the exact scenario I've developed on these boards before, so it has my vote!

Space fights are highly mathematical and deterministic. Superior intelligence gives you a better understanding of enemy capacity, and an understanding of their knowledge of your own capacity. Conventional wisdom holds that a space battle will thus never be necessary; simply building a fleet of sufficient size and power will win the war.

In practice, all the excitement happens planetside, involving diplomats, spies, and secret agents. Because nobody actually reveals their entire military capacity, using the gray area as a deterrent against enemies who might feel emboldened if they knew the exact fleet strength. Many ships and bases are sent out on "scientific missions" or "trading relays", and nobody knows exactly how many of them are genuine. Hence, espionage.

Due to the gray area, a declaration of war will actually involve a brief period of shooting, just long enough to verify current assumptions. If the simulations now indicate defeat, the fleet will usually signal surrender within a few seconds of hostilities commencing. People may die if the military technology of the time requires short-range, rapid engagements, but they will be few. The loser may choose to sabotage their own warships at this stage, if they would rather deny extra fleet capacity to the winner; this may be a requirement by treaty, if the local neighbourhood is afraid of any one polity starting to snowball to military dominance.

As the shooting war is likely to be over in minutes, the espionage conflict is by far the more interesting one.
 

DavetheLost

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Intra-solar system space opera might not have hot wars due to MAD, mutually assured destruction. It is comparatively easy for anyone with a rocket engine and a guidance system to send a dinosaur killer asteroid on a collision course with their enemy. If you are patient it doesn't take a hard shove, and even a large rock is a comparatively small object to find in a lot of empty space. Who wants to risk pushing the war to the point where you get a dinosaur killer dropped on you?

The Death Star in Star Wars had a similar theory behind it. If you can annihilate a planet, who will dare start a war with you?

Doomsday weapons are a common enough space opera trope.
 

Adam Reynolds

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Of course, there's always Star Trek to draw from. I guess Trek hasn't been particularly big for a long enough time that the OP isn't particularly familiar with it, but TV Tropes has a good summary of Starfleet:
Of course I know about Starfleet. While Starfleet does draw upon the Coast Guard sort of thing heavily, they still wind up fighting actual wars somewhat often as they are the military force of a major power. This would be about an organization that essentially stops wars from being fought in the first place, leaving nothing but intrigue, small scale action, and diplomacy. The fact that such a heavily militarized organization would have similar problems to modern American law enforcement in terms of acting like an occupying army all too often is also an interesting element in terms of story possibilities.
 

Geoff Watson

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I don't think "ramming a huge asteroid into a planet" is as easy and simple as most of you make out.
It wouldn't be that difficult to spot a powered ship, and accelerating the rock up to planet killer speeds would take a long time.
 

s/LaSH

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I don't think "ramming a huge asteroid into a planet" is as easy and simple as most of you make out.
It wouldn't be that difficult to spot a powered ship, and accelerating the rock up to planet killer speeds would take a long time.
On the other hand, Kardashev curves indicate that a more advanced civilization will have more energy available to it, and that means everything gets more volatile if you put your mind to it. In the year 1900, nobody was worried about jetliners full of aviation fuel smashing into skyscrapers, because they'd hardly started building skyscrapers, and heavier-than-air flight did not even exist. But now it does. And we've started carrying smartphones in our pockets, which contain enough power to start fires or cause small explosions under the right circumstances. I often say that we'll have an app to turn our phones into functional laser pistols within our lifetimes, and I'm only half kidding.

There will be some way to mess people up hard in the future. Is it asteroid pushing? Maybe, if there's enough heavy lift flying around the system. Or it might be something else.

But I hope society will have developed further by then, and our networks of trust and support will remove the need for any such malevolent action. Prosperity and equality seem to be good tools for protecting peace.

I hate to give Nixon credit, but he was pretty smart, and his idea of competing over refrigerators rather than missiles has a lot of value in it.

So, in the interests of this thread, you can definitely tell a non-military story, in which competition is real and the stakes are high (as outlined above). You're just telling the story of creation, rather than destruction.
 
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