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 Apr 25 '14 at 12:35
  • you’re most welcome. Hyphens are tricky. – Paul D. Waite Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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. – Paul D. Waite Apr 25 '14 at 13:20

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 Apr 25 '14 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. – Paul D. Waite Apr 25 '14 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. – Paul D. Waite Apr 25 '14 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. Nov 9 '15 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. – Paul D. Waite Jan 14 '18 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 Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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 Apr 25 '14 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. – Paul D. Waite Apr 25 '14 at 13:16
  • @PaulD.Waite: You already convinced me. The post you are addressing is from before I was convinced... ;-) – Einer Apr 25 '14 at 13:19
  • @Einer: cool! Clarity. – Paul D. Waite Apr 25 '14 at 13:21

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