Starfleet rules the Federation is a nightmare situation David Marcus and Captain Sisko wanted to avoid.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk’s son David Marcus points out that “scientists have always been the pawns of the military.” Carol Marcus insists “Starfleet kept the peace,” but the idea that Starfleet would – and could – easily take power over its civilian entities has always been an ethical conundrum in most iterations of the franchise. in the New deep space “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost” episodes, Sisko and Odo work to prevent Starfleet from declaring martial law on Earth. Certainly in this scenario there was a legitimate conspiracy at work, but in some senses Discovery presented a version of Starfleet that is the literal manifestation of interstellar law, regardless of whether that power has been “earned” or not.
The age of exploration is over.
Vance tells Saru and Burnham that “we’re out of five-year missions” and claims it’s because Starfleet is all about doing other things. This kind of echoed a complaint of Jean-Luc Picard in the film Star Trek: Insurrection when he said, “Can anyone remember when we were explorers?” The most important point is that Starfleet is 100% focused on putting out fires and keeping the peace on all the worlds that they claim to be under Federation protection. Part of their biggest concern is some sort of space mafia known as the Emerald Chain, which appears to be an outgrowth of the Orion-Andorian union seen in “That Hope Is You, Part 1.”
Thus, Starfleet / Federation is primarily faced with battling a large space mob, who seem determined to expand their sphere of influence over a group of Federation planets. This means that Starfleet’s less-than-sympathetic approach to handling things makes some sense. In some ways, the new Starfleet has more in common with the Resistance in the Star wars movies away than with the Starfleet of yesteryear They aren’t exactly a government, but they really want to create a galaxy in which better government is possible.
Is there another federation?
The last piece of this puzzle is arguably the Treks courts episode “Calypso”. In this episode – possibly set in the same period as Discovery Season 3 – we learn that the inhabitants of Alcor IV are at war with the “V’draysh”. This season of Discovery established that “V’draysh” is a pidgin word for “Federation”. So why is one aspect of the Federation at war with anyone in this future? (Or even further in the future?)
Maybe the Federation in which we met Discovery Season 3 is, as stated, just a collection of ships and planets that have managed to keep in touch. Maybe there are other Federations out there, totally disconnected from this one. And if that’s the case, they might have an entirely separate set of rules than the new Starfleet we’ve encountered. If it was a Star wars problem, you’d be tempted to ask yourself if that means more good guys or more bad guys. But, because it is Star Trek, the answer will probably be both. And no more.