In the galaxy there are a fair number of pre-warp societies. A Federation ship is not to contact them. But what about other, non-Federation species?

If for example a Ferengi ship passes by a pre-warp planet, would they be allowed to contact it? What would a Federation ship observing this contact have to do? Are they obliged to intervene? Are they allowed to? Or were they merely allowed to "strongly discourage" the attempt of the Ferengi?

If it is legal to use force to stop the Ferengi, than in essence the Ferengi were bound to the Prime Directive too. And if so: does this go for all Federation territory? Is this confined to the Federation territory? If Janeway observes such an incident, what are her rights to intervene? Or does she have the duty to do so?

  • @PaulDWait: Thanks for the edit!
    – Einer
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:35
  • you’re most welcome. Hyphens are tricky. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:40
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    By extension: What about civilian Federation citizens? Could Kasidy Yates (for instance) violate the Prime Directive without penalty? If not, what's the penalty?
    – Plutor
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:00
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    @Plutor: As PaulDWhaite pointed out: The order only concerns Starfleet. I'm pretty confused about this but...
    – Einer
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:08
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    @Plutor: Memory Alpha cites Bread and Circuses and Angel One as saying that it applies to Starfleet, but not Federation citizens. I think this makes sense — Starfleet is the military; as a private citizen I wouldn’t expect to be subject to all military rules. There may be civilian laws covering this area too. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:20

4 Answers 4


Looking at the high-level summary of the Prime Directive from Bread and Circuses:

no identification of self or mission; no interference with the social development of said planet; no references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations.

So it tells Starfleet personnel to refrain from interfering themselves in the development of other species. It doesn’t tell them to prevent interference by others — and, as @Selezen points out, preventing such interference could be thought of as interference in itself. (Starfleet might not exist if the Klingons had had a pro-active version of the Prime Directive and stopped the Vulcans from popping down to Earth for a cup of tea with Zefram Cochrane).

I believe the intention of the Directive is to stop Starfleet from playing god:

I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play God.

Captain Jonathan Archer (ENT: "Dear Doctor")

As such, it’s ultimately intended to protect Starfleet from behaving like Q (toying with less-developed beings to satisfy its own curiosity), more than it is to protect lesser-developed civilisations from any interference. Starfleet therefore does not generally attempt to enforce it on other species, or even non-Starfleet Federation citizens.

(Note that the Federation is an interstellar federal government, whilst Starfleet, to whom the Prime Directive applies, is its military/exploration body.)

  • Apparently you are right. Astonishing! Starfleet seems to think that only their influence would be interference but if others do it's part of their natural development. Mind-boggling! But apparently true.
    – Einer
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:50
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    @Einer: I think you’re slightly misinterpreting the intention there. The idea of the Prime Directive is to remind Starfleet not to play at being god. They’re not trying to ensure that every pre-Warp civilisation in the galaxy gets a “natural” development — that would be playing god in itself, holding themselves responsible for the development of any civilisation they can get near. Like if I decide I’m not going to download movies from BitTorrent because I think it’s wrong, that doesn’t mean I have to stop everyone else in the world from doing it too. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:59
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    @Einer: right — the law (the Prime Directive) doesn’t say that no-one may interfere with pre-Warp civilisations. It says that Starfleet may not interfere with pre-Warp civilisations. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:12
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    I think the biggest misconception is that the Prime Directive is a Federation law, when it's actually a Starfleet standing order.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 20:11
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    @Vector: “I don't consider ENT a valid source.” Good for you! I tried the same trick during my physics degree by not considering quantum theory valid. The exam board were not impressed. “That quote is simply an apropos little quip - you cannot use it to determine that actual intent of the PD”. Very true. If you’ve got more detailed quotes describing the Prime Directive lying around, please do add them here, but as far as I know, the actual thing isn’t quoted in any Star Trek work. Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 23:39

The Voyager episode "False Profits" specifically states the Federation's attitude to Ferenghi interference with alien cultures. Bluntly, they might not like it but they don't see it as their place to prevent it from happening.

In this particular instance, Janeway decides to stymie them anyway...

JANEWAY: Well, if we can get the wormhole here, we'll be taking two additional passengers with us. We'll turn them over to Ferengi authorities when we get there.

TUVOK: Captain, I must remind you that the Ferengi are not members of the Federation. They are not bound by the Prime Directive. Nor would it seem that the Prime Directive would allow us to interfere with the internal affairs of this society as much as we may disapprove of what the Ferengi are doing.

JANEWAY: The Federation did host the negotiations. And if it weren't for those negotiations, the Ferengi wouldn't be here. So one could say, without being unreasonable I think, that the Federation is partially responsible for what's happened, and therefore, duty bound to correct the situation.

As far as normal Federation citizens are concerned, there's some indication that they're also covered (under Federation Law) by some version of the Prime Directive:

WINN: Nevertheless, this would be an opportunity for the Federation to once again show its friendship for Bajor.

SISKO: I'm sorry, but I'm afraid Federation law [note, not Starfleet Directives] prevents me from interfering in Bajoran internal affairs.

DS9: Shakaar

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    Janeway is obviously construing a case to bend the rules here: The Federation hosted the conference (which is true) so the Federation is responsible (which is false: The Ferengi pilots have been warned, that the wormhole is about to collapse. They chose to stay.) But why is she doing this? If they were responsible for the Ferengi being in the delta-quadrant, would that imply a duty to do something about it?
    – Einer
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:32
  • Both she and Tuvok recognise that it's wrong but are dancing on the head of a pin to come up with a reason to act.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 14:44
  • That's what I'm thinking. So what you're saying is, that even if Starfleet is (to some degree) responsible for 'spoiling' a pre-warp planet, there wouldn't be a duty to act on it? [guess the answer will be yes, but I'm clutching at any straw here]
    – Einer
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 16:47
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    @Einer - There are plenty of occasions where Starfleet act to repair the damage they've accidentally caused but in this case, Janeway and Tuvok are clearly clutching at straws to justify a course of action they've already decided on.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 17:18

Non-Federation members are not bound by the Prime Directive. I don't think a canonical source is necessary for this response, since the PD is clearly stated in many episodes to be a part of Starfleet's set of General Orders and operating principles.

Memory Alpha has this:

The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive, was the embodiment of one of Starfleet's most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations.

Inherently then, the Federation or Starfleet have no power to enforce this on other cultures. One could argue that since other spacefaring cultures may need to develop further in order to feel the need to have a non-interference directive, enforcing it on them would in fact be a breach of the Prime Directive. :-)

  • Makes sense. But the goal of the prime directive is to let (pre-warp) cultures develop. If even in federation territory anyone but Starfleet may contact anyone, than soon everyone is contacted and interfered with. So that would render that order pointless.
    – Einer
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:32
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    @Einer: just to repeat my comment on my answer, I think the goal of the Prime Directive is to stop Starfleet from playing god. It’s intended to prevent Starfleet interfering in pre-Warp cultures; it’s not intended to ensure that pre-Warp cultures develop without interference from any post-Warp culture. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:16
  • @PaulD.Waite: You already convinced me. The post you are addressing is from before I was convinced... ;-)
    – Einer
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:19
  • @Einer: cool! Clarity. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:21

In early TNG (Season 1, Episode Angel One, I think it was established that only Starfleet personnel are bound by the Prime Directive). Federation citizens however, might not be bound by the PD:

Captain's log, stardate 41636.9. As feared, our examination of the seven year overdue Federation freighter, Odin, disabled by an asteroid collision, revealed no survivors. However, three escape pods were missing, suggesting the possibility of survivors. RAMSEY: Five months in a rescue pod no bigger than this room is an eternity I hope none of you will ever have to face. When we finally made it here, we thought we'd died and gone to heaven. You've seen the women of the planet. They're tall and strong and lovely. But after the newness wore off, we started to see how the men were treated. There's no votes. There's no opinions. There's no respect. TASHA: None of which is your concern any longer, Mister Ramsey. Call the others in, please. It's time to leave. RAMSEY: Despite their problems, Lieutenant, we happen to like it here on Angel One. We're not going anywhere. TROI: But Mistress Beata RAMSEY: Mistress Beata be damned! Her wish is not my command, and neither is yours. You can't force us to go. DATA: Mister Ramsey is correct, Counsellor. The Odin was not a starship, which means her crew is not bound by the Prime Directive. If he and the others wish to stay here, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. RIKER: There's no time to debate the issues. You're going with us whether you choose to go or not. DATA: Excuse me, Commander, but removing any of these people against their will would be a violation of several Starfleet regulations, not the least of which would be the Prime Directive. RIKER: I realise that, Mister Data. I'd rather face a court martial than live with the guilt of leaving these people to their deaths. Commander Riker to Enterprise.

I'm puzzled though... a freighter is not a starship? Huh... it basically has most characteristics of one with a modified design to haul whatever supplies it was designed to haul... but, ok. It might not have been Stafleet strictly speaking, but the Odin WAS a Federation freighter.

So it seems that non-Starfleet individuals are not bound by the Prime Directive... but I would imagine that because majority of Federation individuals would be exposed to relevant general education, critical thinking and problem solving, I think they would implement a degree of self-restraint more or less (at least the majority might) when it comes to interference in other cultures.

Vash certain wasn't a Starfleet officer. She was Human, and as such a Federation citizen (quite likely - because she did later on appear as a member of an archaeological council in Season 4, Episode QPid) She didn't care about breaking rules of a planet to go exploring and finding archaeological artifacts (most likely because the PD didn't apply to her).

So, it seems that PD applies mostly/only to Starfleet personnel... those who aren't in Starfleet don't seem to be bound by it (strictly speaking).

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