In Star Trek, the Prime Directive is Starfleet General Order 1. Does this mean it does not apply to other species? Can other Federation species openly visit primitive planets?

More importantly, what prevents all the other non-Federation species from colonizing or claiming the thousands (if not millions) of primitive planets in the quadrant (like the Dominion has done with the Gamma quadrant)?

  • Are you under the impression that Starfleet is a human-only branch of The Federation? Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 22:21
  • @Accumulation, maybe this question can be rephrased to "Is the whole Federation bound by the Prime Directive or just Starfleet?" or "Does the Prime Directive apply only to Starfleet?" It makes me wonder if the Federation has a bureau dedicated to interfering in pre-warp cultures.
    – Jetpack
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 2:24
  • For example, do Klingons abide by it? I can see Vulcans and Androians doing so, but Klingons?
    – HNL
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 23:15

6 Answers 6


The Federation is not a human government, it is a multi-stellar/multi-racial government that includes, for example, the planet Vulcan.

Any member of Starfleet would be required to obey this order. This order would not apply to a private citizen (such as Spock’s mom or any non-Starfleet officers and non-Federation officials) but I would assume that there is an equivalent Federation law since it would be silly if the Prime Directive applied only to the Starfleet.

  • I believe the question was more referring to Starfleet being a human organisation (I'm not sure I would call them military). So, Vulcan vessels would not be bound by Starfleet Command, for example.
    – bitmask
    Commented Apr 8, 2012 at 14:07
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    That's exactly my point though - Starfleet may have a lot of humans in it, but it is NOT a human organization. It is the military arm of the Federation. There are Vulcan star ships, but I believe that they are primarily scientific ships. In any case, Vulcan is a full member of the Federation and all of its ships would fall under Federation law. I am sure that there is a civilian equivalent to General Order1 and that Vulcan ships would be required to obey it. Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 1:34
  • Okay. I thought Starfleet was Earth's collection of science vessels (that effectively implement military tasks, but that's an important distinction for me). Excluding Vulcan ships, for instance. But I just checked Memory-Alpha and noticed I was wrong.
    – bitmask
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 1:42
  • Just another thought; If there was in fact a Federation-wide Prime directive for all citizens. That would already include all Starfleet vessels. If that were the case, you wouldn't require a Prime Directive to be stated in the Starfleet orders, simply because the people on star ships would already be bound to follow that rule. So, what about that?
    – bitmask
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 1:47
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    Military organizations have their own legal codes. Not all civilian laws apply to military personel who are on military bases or especially on active duty. So yes, General Order 1 would be separate and distinct from whatever civilian law exists that implements the Prime Directive. Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 1:51

Presumably some cultures have their own equivalent of the Prime Directive, and some don't.

Certainly most of the non-Federation cultures we've seen don't, but perhaps that's selection bias; if the Vnerzglians, for example, follow their own Prime Directive, it's more difficult to write an interesting episode about any interaction with them.

The Organians certainly appeared to have their own version of a non-interference directive; they were very hesitant to interfere even with the actions of Kirk, Spock, and the Klingon occupiers on their own planet.


sigh You're making me talk about Angel One. I find this distressing because it was a terrible first season TNG episode.


Ramsey tells the rest of the away team that at first they thought Angel I was great, but then they saw how the men had no respect and were discriminated against. When they spoke out, they were forced to become fugitives. He refuses to leave, and Data adds that they can't force him, as he and his crew are not members of Starfleet, nor do they have to obey the Prime Directive.

So canonically Federation civilians, technically even human civilians are not answerable to the Prime Directive because it's a Starfleet regulation. It only applies to Starfleet. It would not be surprising if the Federation has laws saying things like there are certain planets that civilians aren't allowed to go to because the locals have never made first contact and laws against exporting more advanced technologies to a planet but that remains unconfirmed. We can just surmise that to be the case because in TNG we saw increasing numbers of pre-warp drive civilizations that had not had any open contact with aliens in living memory. As TNG went on the Prime Directive became portrayed more and more as a foundational moral principle of the Federation which is kind of inconsistent with Angel One but consistence was not that strong a suit when it came to Star Trek.


Other governments are well known to not live by the same code as the Federation held itself to. The Klingons, Cardassians, Dominion and Romulans frequently gobble up more primitive planets within their claimed space, bringing them into the technological future more rapidly than they would have on their own development.

Just for a couple of examples: The Jem'hadar were fairly primitive farmers who were taken and changed into soldiers by the Changelings. The Remans were likewise a primitive race who were brought into virtual servitude by the Romulans to serve as laborors and shock troops in battle. The brief-lived Sona subjugated several races into their empire.

Nothing really prevents other governments from doing this. Occasionally border worlds are protected more or less by being in Neutral Zones between the various governments, but for the most part the only thing that prevents a world from being pulled into the future as servants to a subjugating race is that the conquerors must expend the effort required to bring that culture up to a level high enough to be of use. That may be a small effort or a large one, depending on how far that world has already progressed on its own. Even for primitive slave labor, you would still have to teach them enough to be useful.

Add to that the amount of effort required to keep control of that world if it is one taken by subjugation. Are you willing to expend the troops and supplies necessary to keep the locals in line? Or is that not worth your time for the return you're getting? So there's a lot of factors that can "protect" primitive worlds from being taken over by advanced governments.


Only Starfleet is expected to follow the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive only applies to Starfleet officers and Federation officials. The Federation cannot expect its “citizens” to follow the Prime Directive. https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/72298/89278


The Bajorans are perhaps an example of a species that was greatly affected by failure of Cardassians (and, depending on how you view it, the Federation) to follow anything like the Prime Directive. According to Memory Alpha, the Bajorans had developed "sublight space travel" when they were "annexed" by the Cardassian Empire; as such they were a pre-Warp civilization and fell under the Prime Directive.

The Bajorans were enslaved and their planet's natural resources were plundered for forty years. They had a Resistance, but neither Memory Alpha nor DS9 (which starts right after the occupation ends) detail exactly how a technologically inferior race was able to expel an established occupation, or whether they had help from the Federation or others. The Federation then set up a friendly presence on the former Cardassian space station, originally to provide administrative and scientific assistance in the Bajoran recovery.

While the Bajorans do have some sort of military (the Bajoran Militia), it seems to be relatively weak and perhaps technologically inferior to others. In the first episode of DS9 Season Seven (Memory Alpha doesn't really go into detail on this) Kira, with the militia's backing, confronts a semi-hostile Romulan warbird, and everyone involved - Kira, the Romulan officer, and the Federation officer present - considers the Bajoran vessel greatly outmatched. So it seems likely that they are still technically a pre-Warp civilization, despite their significant role in 24th-century events.

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    Being outmatched by a Romulan warbird doesn't imply being pre-warp. Without warp drive, it would take years to get to the nearest neighboring planetary system. Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 19:14
  • True. But according to Memory Alpha they were pre-warp when the Cardassians invaded, and there's nothing to suggest they have developed warp technology on their own since then or that they've obtained much of other civilizations' advanced technology.
    – ejs
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 19:55
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    Warp technology is a red herring in that case. Since Bajor was conquered by the Cardassians and exposed to their technology and world view, the Prime Directive doesn't forbid contact anymore. They belong to the interstellar community now, no matter how technologically advanced they are. Of course the Prime Directive still applies and it limits the interference Starfleet is allowed to exert on Bajor.
    – MauganRa
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 7:54
  • Also, the discoveries in the DS9 episode Explorers imply that ancient Bajorans did discover warp travel by accident, but never really understood it or really took advantage of its capabilities. Just knowing that it's possible and having accomplished it once may be enough to qualify as a warp-capable civilization for the purposes of the Prime Directive. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 20:46

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