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I've envisioned a system where empires or planets in the universe are part of a large federation, but the only real ties they have are the enforcement and protection of some neutral trading posts and planets, and following a set of rules of war that are democratically decided by the rest of the federation (IE. 'grey goo' weapons are completely banned due to the high risk if they got out of control.) My problem is thus; say an empire was to break the aforementioned rule and create a large stockpile of 'grey goo' weapons, which were then discovered by neutral federation inspectors. What could the federation do in response to this breech, bearing in mind every civilization has agreed to do what the federation commands if a breech is found?

To provide some understanding on what the problem would be here is an article on grey goo itself: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_goo

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    $\begingroup$ You could write an entire sci-fi series about the consequences of such an action. As is this question is too broad for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ Force the military leaders to watch Boku No Pico 24/7. See, that's one of the many, equivalently possible answers. But they should really start working on an anti-grey goo... $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2017 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ Destroy with extreme prejudice: trigger a supernova in their system, crash a neutron star into their planet etc. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2017 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ This is way to broad, it would depend on the nature of the treaty, the federation, and the technology. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ Have you researched the consequences of breaking planetary 'rules of war' in today's nations? They would provide an excellent starting point for exploring what such a system could possibly be. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 20:51

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It depends on how threatening these weapons are and what creating them says about the creator.

I'm going to assume that the answer to the first part is "existentially," or that these weapons pose as much as or more than a threat to the federation (and beyond?) as a global nuclear exchange would to Earth.

This leaves the second part to be figured out before we determine the likely response (from a geopolitical or rather astropolitical position: if the federation is being run by e.g. space jains then the response is obviously going to be different).

Two sub-questions that you need to determine the answer:

1) For this weapon in particular, are there any possible benign uses? For example, working on nuclear reactors on Earth can be a path to power plants as much as to weapons. On the other hand, it's hard to come up with a use for grey goo outside of destroying the enemy.

2) Are there any plausible reasons for the defecting polity to build these weapons, that do not involve hostility to the rest of the federation? For example, if the defecting polity is on the border of an empire of incredibly hostile and hungry lizard people, and the federation would be unlikely to muster up a sufficient response to any invasion by this empire in enough time to prevent significant losses, then the defecting polity could reasonably be assumed to just be looking out for its own interests, assuming that these weapons can be reasonably considered necessary to that defense. On the other hand, there are plenty of scenarios in which building a weapons cache would be as eyebrow-raising as Florida or Colorado pursuing its own nuclear weapons program.

If there are no plausible benign answers (the weapon has very few uses, if any, outside of warfare and there is no good reason for the polity to be building these weapons), and if they are, as I assume, an existential threat to the federation, then the federation would almost certainly neutralize the problem (depending on the risk involved and the federation's concern for civilians, this could mean anything from a pseudo-EMP strike that technologically crippled the defecting polity and rendered it incapable of using its weapons, to an invasion and/or coup, to simply destroying the entire polity with relativistic kill vehicles or other apocalyptic-scale weapons).

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The answer what to do by the Federation depends on the severeness of the weapon. If the weapon is illegal but not that destructive (e. g. Deathstar or nuclear program in North Korea), then invade and divide the country in several parts that are ruled by other parties (Germany after WWII). If the weapons are extremely dangerous like the goo, then allied forces annihilate the whole system with system annihilation weapons that are registered and allowed for a few countries. The checking commission will also need to die. There are rumors that USSR burned whole towns with people to stop very harmful diseases.

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