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For additional meanings of "Prime Directive", please see Prime Directive.
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This page contains information regarding new Star Trek material, and thus may contain spoilers.

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. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. (TOS: "Bread and Circuses", "A Piece of the Action"; VOY: "Course: Oblivion"; Star Trek Into Darkness)

The "precursor" to the Prime Directive, though somewhat undefined, could be traced back to Captain Archer's and Phlox's ethical dilemma faced when encountering two species, one with a terminal genetic illness and the other without. They decided that interfering with the natural evolutionary course of these two species would go against the "directive" upon which they based their entire mission; to meet new species and attempt peaceful communications, not to "play God". (ENT: " Dear Doctor")

The fundamental principles were an important part of Earth Starfleet procedures as early as 2152, but it did not go into effect as a General Order until sometime after 2168. (ENT: "The Communicator"; TOS: "A Piece of the Action") The directive remained in effect well into the 24th century and applied to at least Starfleet and Merchant Marine personnel, but specifically did not apply to ordinary Federation citizens. (TOS: "Bread and Circuses"; TNG: "Angel One")

Prohibitions

"The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy... and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."
- Captain Jean Luc Picard (TNG: "Symbiosis")

A complicated order, the Prime Directive had 47 sub-orders by the latter part of the 24th century. (VOY: "Infinite Regress") However, a high-level summary was "no identification of self or mission; no interference with the social development of said planet; no references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations." (TOS: "Bread and Circuses") The directive provided guidance on what constituted prohibited "interference" with a society, covering such matters as:

Scope and Interpretation

"Someday my people are going to come up with some sort of a doctrine, something that tells us what we can and can't do out here; should and shouldn't do. But until somebody tells me that they've drafted that... directive... I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play God."
- Captain Jonathan Archer, sensing the need for the Prime Directive in 2151 (ENT: "Dear Doctor")

The Prime Directive did not apply equally to all societies on all planets at all times. Although a cornerstone of Federation philosophy, the scope of the Prime Directive varied depending on many factors. For example, the Prime Directive primarily applied to societies that had little to no actual knowledge of other worlds and space-faring civilizations (as with certain pre-warp civilizations). (TOS: "Bread and Circuses"; TNG: "First Contact", "Who Watches The Watchers") But it also applied to the internal affairs of societies which knew extensively of other worlds (for example, interference in purely internal affairs by Starfleet was not permitted in the Klingon Civil War). Human colonies were excluded from its coverage all together, and by virtue of joining the United Federation of Planets member planets were subject to its laws, regulations, and authority. (TNG: "The Masterpiece Society"; TOS: "Journey to Babel") The result was a spectrum of application: the more closely a civilization was tied to the Federation or Earth the greater the amount of interference in that civilization that was tolerated within the Prime Directive.

Some actions were clearly forbidden by the Prime Directive when it did apply to a society. Others were subject to interpretation, with commanding officers in Starfleet being given great discretionary powers regarding how and whether the Prime Directive would apply to specific situations. This promoted debate among command crews about whether the Prime Directive would (or should) apply, and how best to balance competing ethical priorities. (TOS: "The Return of the Archons", "The Apple", "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", "A Private Little War"; TNG: "Conspiracy", "Justice", "Pen Pals", "Who Watches The Watchers"; DS9: "Captive Pursuit"; VOY: "Time and Again", "Prototype") If a decision was made by the commanding officer that could potentially be a violation of the Prime Directive, the conclusions and rationale would need to be recorded and justified to Starfleet through the ship's or station's logs. (TNG: "Coming of Age") Anyone found to have violated the Prime Directive (including through claiming an unjustified exception or having a weak rationale regarding actions otherwise constituting a violation) could result in punishment ranging from a formal reprimand all the way to arrest and court martial. (DS9: "Captive Pursuit"; TOS: "The Omega Glory")

Exceptions

"There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions."
- Captain Jean Luc Picard (TNG: "Justice")

There were many exceptions to the applicability of the Prime Directive that were accepted by the Federation. Each was driven by the context of the situation, the society, and the circumstances at the moment. These were typically not full exceptions that voided the Prime Directive entirely; it was only suspended to the extent minimally necessary to address the matter at hand (e.g., answer a hail, provide rescue assistance). Also, actions were to be handled in a way that attempted to minimize the interference resulting from the limited suspension. For example, the attempted "repair" of prior cultural interference was not, itself, to be done in a way that would lead to even greater interference. (TOS: "A Piece of the Action") These exceptions generally fell into the following categories:

  • The society already knew of and contacted the Federation (e.g., seeking assistance; treaty matters) (TNG: "Datalore", "Deja Q")
  • The society sent a general distress call to any space-faring cultures who might pick it up (TOS: "Miri"; TNG: "Pen Pals")
  • A material injustice involving a Federation citizen would occur absent the interference (TNG: "Justice")
Regarding minimal interference, compare the interference by Picard in TNG: "Justice" to the interference by Jameson described in TNG: "Too Short a Season". In both instances Federation citizens were being held in an arguably unjust manner. But Picard's actions were the removal of a single condemned prisoner without loss of life or technology transfer, albeit with the planting of seeds of doubt regarding inflexible laws. Jameson, on the other hand, transferred technology which resulted in decades of war and millions of deaths. Picard's actions were much less intrusive in the Edo society.

There were, however, two circumstances where the Prime Directive was suspended in its entirety. The first was when the Omega Directive applied. Due to issues of security only Starfleet officers ranked captain and above were privy to knowledge of this directive. The existential threat to interstellar society of the dangerous Omega molecule, which destroyed subspace and rendered warp travel impossible if destabilized, outweighed the philosophical aspirations of the Prime Directive. As a result, during periods when the Omega Directive was operative the Prime Directive was fully suspended for the purpose of rendering harmless any Omega molecules and the ability to create them. (VOY: "The Omega Directive") The second circumstance was General Order 24. That order permitted a starship captain, in certain circumstances, to destroy the entire surface of an inhabited planet and thereby eradicate any societies living there. (TOS: "A Taste of Armageddon")

General Order 24 was only directly referenced in TOS: "A Taste of Armageddon". It was implied in each of "Whom Gods Destroy" and "Operation -- Annihilate!", where the result of discussed actions could have included the destruction of an entire planet or civilization. The circumstances when General Order 24 could be used, the limitations on captains to invoke it, the responsibilities of a crew to comply or not, and its relationship with the Prime Directive have never been addressed.

Federation citizens did not need an exception as the Prime Directive did not apply to them. In fact, under the rules as defined in the Directive in the 24th Century, a Starfleet crew was forbidden from forcibly removing Federation citizens from a world, even if they had intentionally and materially interfered with the culture of a world in a way that would otherwise have been prohibited by the Prime Directive. (TNG: "Angel One")

Attitudes Toward the Prime Directive

"The Prime Directive is not a matter of degree. It is an absolute."
- Lt. Worf (TNG: "Pen Pals")
"Well, I refuse to be bound by an abstraction. The lives of the people of Boraal are far more important to me."
- Nikolai Rozhenko (TNG: "Homeward ")
"This is how it begins. All it takes is for one impressionable youngster to join Starfleet, and the next thing you know, a whole generation of Ferengi will be quoting the Prime Directive and abandoning the pursuit of latinum. It's the end of Ferengi civilization as we know it and it's all your fault."
- Quark (DS9: "Family Business")

Starfleet as an organization had the greatest respect for and required compliance with the Prime Directive. (TOS: "The Omega Glory", "Bread and Circuses") But not all Federation citizens, or even all Starfleet personnel, believed that strict adherence to the Prime Directive under every circumstance was in the best interests of the civilizations it was designed to protect. Starfleet captains themselves had very different personal tolerances for the degree of flexibility to be applied to the Prime Directive. Captain James T. Kirk, noted that the Prime Directive was intended to apply only to living, growing civilizations and felt it was appropriate to interfere where societies had been enslaved or were in a state of total stagnation (also known as an arrested culture). (TOS: "Errand of Mercy", "The Return of the Archons", "The Apple") Captain Kirk also at least once attempted to interfere in the internal affairs of a civilization when he believed that higher ethics compelled or justified such actions. (TOS: "Mirror, Mirror") On the other hand, both Captains Picard and Janeway were prepared to watch whole societies perish from natural causes rather than interfere – even when others were seeking to prevail upon them that Starfleet's role should permit actively saving societies rather than passively watching them die. (TNG: "Homeward", "Pen Pals"; VOY: "Time and Again") This range of conduct could even be found within a single individual: Captain Kathryn Janeway once noted that 23rd century Starfleet officers such as Kirk were "a little too slow to invoke the Prime Directive," but she herself admitted to having "bent it on occasion" during her travels in the Delta Quadrant. (VOY: "Flashback", "Equinox")

The Prime Directive as a general prohibition against interference was unique to the United Federation of Planets. Other organizations and cultures outside of Federation had different approaches to matters regarding interference with societies. These ranged from total annihilation of civilizations through assimilation (for example, the Borg), to planetary relocation when the society was endangered on its homeworld (for example, the Preservers), to providing advanced knowledge on an ad hoc basis when the society was deemed ready (for example, the Vulcans), to interfering whenever doing so was seen as vaguely amusing (for example, the Q).

Examples

There are many examples of actions during the 23rd and 24th Centuries that were either identified at the time as violations of, or could appear to have potentially been violations of, the Prime Directive.

Interference with Societies Unaware of Other Worlds

  • In 2259 of the alternate reality, Captain Kirk learned a volcano on the planet Nibiru was going to erupt and render the Nibirans extinct. He and Leonard McCoy went to great lengths to relocate them from their settlement before the eruption by disguising themselves, luring the natives away by stealing their sacred scroll - indirectly protecting it - and appropriating local wildlife to flee. However, Kirk chose to violate the Prime Directive anyway when he moved the USS Enterprise into position over the volcano to transport the stranded Spock before the cold fusion device he placed inside detonated, prompting the Nibirans to draw a picture of the starship in the soil. (Star Trek Into Darkness)
  • In 2266, Captain Kirk took a landing party down to a remarkably Earth-like planet in response to a general distress call. Once there, he and the rest of the landing party became infected with a virus that killed adults, but significantly slowed the aging process of those who had not yet entered puberty. Dr. Leonard McCoy discovered a cure for the virus, which was also given to the few children who remained alive on the planet and with whom the landing party had interacted. (TOS: "Miri")
The Prime Directive was not mentioned in this episode, nor was non-interference discussed. However, Kirk's rescue of members of a civilization which had otherwise destroyed itself could be seen as a violation of the Prime Directive in that the natural course of the society's development was extinction. It is possible that the general distress call, the fact that the society no longer existed as a practical matter, and that the survivors were all children (albeit very old children) who were soon to starve, may have combined to provide an exception to the interference.
  • On stardate 3156.2, the USS Enterprise was trying to determine the fate of the starship Archon. After his entire crew was threatened with death by the Landru computer, Captain Kirk caused the computer to self-destruct by convincing it that it was harming the society that it was designed to protect. Kirk justified the interference by claiming that the society was not "a living, growing culture" and that as an arrested culture the Prime Directive did not apply to it. Following the destruction of the computer Kirk left behind a team of specialists to assist the planet with societal development in the absence of Landru. (TOS: "The Return of the Archons")
This episode contained the first mention of the Prime Directive in Star Trek. It also was the first instance of the Federation taking on the responsibility for mentoring an entire civilization's population post-interference.
  • On stardate 3715.3, Kirk ordered the Enterprise to destroy the Vaal computer that was caring for the inhabitants of Gamma Trianguli VI. Doing so saved his ship from destruction after the Vaal computer attacked the vessel. Kirk justified his action on the grounds that the people on the planet were essentially enslaved by a computer. As Kirk said at the time, "These people aren't living. They're existing. They don't create, produce, even think. They exist to service a machine... we owe it to them to interfere." Despite serious misgivings from his First Officer Spock about his rationale, Kirk decided that the society was – as were the followers of Landru – an arrested culture and therefore not subject to the Prime Directive's prohibitions. (TOS: "The Apple")
  • On Stardate 2534.0 the crew of the Enterprise investigated the loss of contact with historian and cultural observer, John Gill, who had been assigned to the planet Ekos. They discovered that Gill deliberately violated the Prime Directive in an attempt to reorder the planet's society into a benign version of Nazi Germany. Captain Kirk acted to reduce the effects of Gill's interference in the hopes of restoring the peace that had existed before Gill's arrival. Kirk's corrective interference resulted in the overthrow of the planetary government Gill had installed and allowed for a return to such peace. (TOS: "Patterns of Force")
  • In an attempt to gain diplomatic alliances and hide their activities, the Klingons surreptitiously introduced advanced (for the planet) weapons to enemies of the Hill People on the planet Neural. Their belief was that once the Hill People were obliterated the planet would ally itself with the Klingon Empire. Discovering the interference on stardate 4211.4, Kirk felt that it was justified to "even the odds." Through corrective interference intended to eliminate the advantages introduced by the Klingons, Kirk started to provide the Hill People similar weapons. He later determined that the additional weapons were not in the planet's best interests and stopped further shipments. (TOS: "A Private Little War")
  • In 2268, Captain Ronald Tracey of the USS Exeter provided material support to one faction (the Kohms) on planet Omega IV in their ongoing war with a rival faction (the Yangs). He did so primarily through strategic advice and extensively using his phaser during at least one battle otherwise fought with bladed weapons, spears, and arrows. Tracey's rationale for violating the Prime Directive was that he believed the planet was the source of a means for Humans to significantly extend their lifetimes; he saw protection of the Kohms as the best way to allow scientific study of that means. His conclusion was that the benefits of general life extension throughout Humankind outweighed his significant interference in the planet's society. (This was echoed a century later by a similar rationale used by Admiral Matthew Dougherty in his dealings with the Ba'ku.) Tracey was subsequently arrested by Captain Kirk for his violation. (TOS: "The Omega Glory"; Star Trek: Insurrection)
  • On stardate 4842.6, Captain Kirk inadvertently became entangled with the native population of the planet Amerind after his memories were damaged by an alien device. He was proclaimed a god by the indigenous population of Native Americans, married the daughter of the chief, and fathered a child with her before having his memory restored. He was later rescued by Commander Spock and Dr. McCoy, who were also inadvertently seen in full uniform by the indigenous people. (TOS: "The Paradise Syndrome")
The Prime Directive is not mentioned in the episode, despite the societal changes wrought by Kirk and the landing party. It is likely that the inadvertent interference, which occurred while trying to follow Starfleet orders, would have been considered excused behavior.
  • Also in 2268, the USS Enterprise discovered the wreckage of the SS Beagle near planet 892-IV. A merchant service vessel, the ship and its captain, R.M. Merik had been missing for six years at that time. Upon finding the planet Merik had been convinced that carrying knowledge of the planet elsewhere would damage the highly traditional society there; he and his crew therefore beamed down to live within the society. By the time the Enterprise arrived, Merik had been elevated to First Citizen, an influential leader within the society. Captain Kirk considered Merik's interference to have violated the Prime Directive, but Merik died before he could be charged or exonerated. During this mission Kirk provided a special commendation to Montgomery Scott as "Despite enormous temptation and strong personal feelings, he obeyed the Prime Directive. His temporary blackout of the city below resulted in no interference with the society and yet saved the lives of myself and the landing party." (TOS: "Bread and Circuses")
Captain Merik is clearly not part of Starfleet, but is expressly identified as part of the "merchant service." In naval traditions a merchant service is an organization that is allied with the military, yet not formally part of it. This is what distinguishes Merik (as to whom Kirk consistently states the Prime Directive applies), from the crew of the Odin (as to whom Data consistently states the Prime Directive does not apply). The Odin, identified as a Federation freighter, was not part of the merchant service and therefore not allied with Starfleet in the same way for Prime Directive purposes.
  • In 2365, Lieutenant Commander Data answered a call for help from Sarjenka of Drema IV and maintained communication with her for eight weeks. Her planet was undergoing extreme seismic disturbances that the USS Enterprise-D could potentially correct. A highly emotive discussion took place among the senior staff on whether or not to interfere by resolving the problems on the planet, with mixed views on the application of the Prime Directive. The matter was settled after Captain Picard declared that the request for help allowed for an exception. Data later transported Sarjenka to the Enterprise to save her life, but her knowledge of the ship and of Data was erased from her memory. The Enterprise neutralized the seismic activity of the planet without the inhabitants being aware of it, thereby answering the call for aid while minimally interfering with the society. (TNG: "Pen Pals")
  • A malfunction in an observation team's duck blind (a holographic projection to hide a Federation cultural observation post) in 2366 caused an explosion which was viewed by the people of Mintaka III. Despite multiple attempts by the crew of the Enterprise to eliminate the societal interference (including memory wipes and secret infiltration into the society), the result of this caused the Mintakans to revert into a religious belief in an Overseer (a god). The Mintakans had previously been on a social trajectory that included a rejection of religion, so in a final attempt to correct the inadvertent interference Captain Picard purposefully revealed aspects of the Federation to the leader of the Mintakans. This revelation showed that none of the crew were supernatural, and – while some limited knowledge of other worlds and societies remained – the corrective interference by Picard was intended to cause the Mintakans to return to their societal development as before. (TNG: "Who Watches The Watchers")
  • In 2370 Nikolai Rozhenko was acting as an assigned cultural observer for a pre-warp society on Boraal II. During and after his assignment he committed at least three actions which had Prime Directive implications. First, he intervened to save a village of people on Boraal II from the destruction of their planet from natural causes (in direct contravention of Captain Picard's orders regarding the use of his ship for such purposes). Second, he fathered a child with a native of Boraal II. Third, he elected to remain with the village following its resettlement to Vacca VI. Rozhenko's plan to save the village was to transport the entire population to a holodeck on the Enterprise. He then intended to mask their relocation and knowledge of the Federation by using holodeck technology, thereby (in his opinion) acceptably minimizing the interference in their society while they were relocated to a different planet. Captain Picard disagreed with taking any action as saving the village from a natural disaster was in his opinion a Prime Directive violation. When presented with Rozhenko's fait accompli of having already transported the village to the Enterprise as Boraal II was dying, Picard chose to resettle the village on Vacca VI while simultaneously trying to minimize the societal interference (although one native of Boraal II committed suicide after he inadvertently discovered what was happening to his people). Rozhenko was later permitted to remain on Vacca VI following the successful resettlement of the village by the Enterprise. (TNG: "Homeward")
Some commentators have noted that Nikolai Rozhenko was not a member of Starfleet and so as a mere Federation citizen the Prime Directive should not have applied to his actions. However, Picard's log stated that Nikolai had "been stationed on the planet as a cultural observer." If Starfleet was the unnamed organization who had stationed him there, the implication would be that civilians working for Starfleet would also need to follow the Prime Directive. This would explain why Nikolai, who went to great lengths to argue against the application of the Prime Directive, never raised his civilian status as a rationale for his actions. Regardless, Picard was in control of his ship's resources and their use, and he was within his rights to prevent their use if he believed that doing so was in contravention of the Prime Directive. The two other actions that interfered with the society – fathering a child (who would have, to the Boraalians, internal alien characteristics) and remaining to live with them without a memory wipe – may have been permitted actions of a citizen as these were not raised by anyone as Prime Directive violations. Regardless, Rozhenko was seemingly not to be prosecuted for his actions, whether due to his civilian status or other unspecified reasons.
  • In 2371, Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Paris both inadvertently interfered in a society on a class M-Planet in the Delta Quadrant and acted to repair that interference. While investigating a massive, planet-wide explosion that caused subspace to be ripped into many fractures, Janeway and Paris were transported a day back in time through one such fracture. In one alternate timeline the subsequent efforts by the crew of the starship USS Voyager to rescue them caused the explosion that destroyed the surface of the planet. In another timeline Janeway recognized the danger presented by the rescue attempt and prevented the crew's inadvertent interference from triggering the explosion. The latter timeline became the primary one such that the society was not interfered with in any respect. (VOY: "Time and Again")
  • In 2379 the inhabitants of Kolarus III lived in isolated pockets in a pre-warp civilization at an early stage of industrial development. Captain Picard, Data, and Worf were investigating positronic signatures on the planet's surface when they were unexpectedly attacked by a group of inhabitants. An ion storm had previously prevented them using the ship's transporters, and so the away team had landed in the shuttlecraft Argo and were using its all-terrain vehicle to collect what turned out to be scattered portions of B4. The away team responded to the attack with suppressing phaser fire and a rapid escape. This display of weaponry, the vehicle, the crew (in uniform), and the Argo itself were all observed by the inhabitants, whose memories were left intact. (Star Trek Nemesis)
Many commentators have noted the cavalier way in which the crew appears to treat this away mission. The shooting script makes clear that the planet's inhabitants surprised the crew and that the phaser fire was intended "to distract and slow the aliens, not kill them." If allowing the inhabitants to capture the buggy, the Argo, and the crew would have probably resulted in a greater societal interference, Picard may have made the calculation that an escape (albeit one that revealed Federation technology) was preferable. Regardless, the Prime Directive was not discussed in the film itself.

Interference with Societies Aware of Other Worlds

  • In 2267 Captain Kirk severely damaged a computer system on Eminiar VII. The system was used in conjunction with a Vendikar computer system to simulate war between them (rather than truly wage it). Damaging the system abrogated a treaty between the two worlds and gave the planets the choice of either waging real war or agreeing to cease hostilities. Eminiar VII, for its part, attempted to choose the latter course with the help of a Federation ambassador. The interference occurred during diplomatic discussions with the Federation, and was ancillary to Kirk's invoking General Order 24. (TOS: "A Taste of Armageddon")
This interference by Kirk in the societies of both Eminiar VII and Vendikar, not to mention the threat to totally destroy Eminiar VII, is difficult to reconcile with the Prime Directive. It is possible that the invocation of General Order 24 – tantamount to a declaration of war by the Federation – suspended the Prime Directive for a planet. Whether General Order 24 provided legal cover for this extraordinary interference in a society, what the circumstances were under which General Order 24 could be invoked, and whether some undisclosed circumstances existed which permitted this unusual display of aggressiveness and interference by Starfleet remain unknown. Also of note is that, as in "The Return of the Archons", the Federation left personnel (in this case Ambassador Robert Fox) to help the society with its transition following the significant interference.
  • Later in 2267, Kirk persuaded Spock's mirror double to work for significant cultural change in the Terran Empire. Had the actions occurred in the Federation's universe they would undoubted have constituted interference in the internal affairs of other societies. However, applicability of the Prime Directive to another universe had not previously been required to be contemplated as such universes were only theoretically believed to exist. (TOS: "Mirror, Mirror")
  • During a Starfleet-ordered contact to open negotiations with the Capellans for mineral resources on stardate 3156.2, Captain Kirk prevented the Teer (leader) of certain tribes from killing the wife and unborn child of the former leader. This delay resulted in her giving birth to a child who was, by lineage, to be a future leader of the tribes. The actions were a counter-response to the overthrow and death of the legitimate leader due to Klingon influence. Since the deposed leader would otherwise have remained in power absent the Klingons, actions to preserve his lineage were an attempt to "repair" the society. (TOS: "Friday's Child")
  • In 2319, then Captain Mark Jameson of the USS Gettysburg supplied weapons to the leader of one faction, Karnas, on Mordan IV in exchange for the release of Federation hostages. However, he also supplied Karnas' rival factions with equivalent weaponry. The net result was the affected society was plunged into decades of civil war. His rationale, later given to Captain Jean-Luc Picard, was that arming both sides was intended to maintain a balance of power, save the hostages, and negate his interference. (Jameson, however, also mentioned that he falsified records of this event to Starfleet indicating his confidence in the validity of his excuse was not as high as he later claimed.) Jameson died prior to any action being taken as a result of his interference becoming known. (TNG: "Too Short a Season")
  • Captain Picard interfered with the Edo society of Rubicun III on stardate 41255. First, he prevented the lawful execution of a Federation citizen (Wesley Crusher) for having inadvertently disturbed some new plantings. Second, while questioning a representative of the Edo regarding an investigation into what a powerful alien ship might do should he prevent the execution, Picard revealed that the Edo's god was an orbiting installation. Picard justified his actions to Starfleet by claiming that the execution – the sole punishment of the Edo for unlawful activity – would result in such a material injustice to Wesley that the interference in the internal affairs of the Edo was justified.(TNG: "Justice", "Coming of Age")
It is not made clear why the Enterprise was permitted to visit Rubicun III at all. Aspects of the episode indicate that it is a first contact (e.g., Tasha Yar reviewing their laws). But other aspects seem to imply that the Edo were well aware of other worlds and peoples (e.g., a lack of significant surprise at obvious aliens beaming down; no express discussion of a first contact). The context of Picard's actions is therefore not fully known, although the general manner of the Enterprise's contact suggests that the Edo were already aware of other worlds even if they themselves were not space-faring.
  • In 2369, Chief Miles O'Brien took actions on station Deep Space 9 which interfered in the progression of a "hunt" between a group of Hunters and their quarry, a Tosk. The hunt was culturally significant to their society, and interference in the hunt was deemed by the station's commanding officer, Commander Sisko, to represent a violation of the Prime Directive. Sisko remarked that an exception permitting the interference would have existed had the Tosk affirmatively requested asylum from the Federation, but the Tosk considered such a request shameful. O'Brien's actions to nevertheless help the Tosk escape from the Hunters earned him a reprimand in his Starfleet record, even though Sisko privately sympathized with his motives and may have been complicit in O'Brien's aid. (DS9: "Captive Pursuit")
  • Also in 2369, Commander Sisko offered to remove the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis from their moon prison. Dr. Julian Bashir suggested that doing so might amount to a "jail break," thereby interfering with their society's administration of justice. Sisko replied that as the commanding officer he believed the Federation would consider the artificial microbes infused into the prisoners' systems sufficient for them to be seen as "separate and unique" from their original society. This would make the Prime Directive inapplicable. It remained a theoretical discussion, as no one was removed from the prison. (DS9: "Battle Lines")
  • In 2371 (Stardate 48315.6), Captain Kathryn Janeway destroyed the Caretaker's array. This was done after the Caretaker had, as he was dying, initiated a self-destruct program. The Caretaker's reason for destroying the array was to prevent the Kazon from using it aginst the Ocampa – a race the Caretaker was nurturing and protecting. That program malfunctioned due to a Kazon ship colliding with the array following a battle with the Val Jean. Lt. Commander Tuvok advised Janeway of the potential Prime Directive issues of becoming involved in internal societal matters when he said that destroying the array "would affect the balance of power in this system. The Prime Directive would seem to apply." However, because the Kazon ship would not have collided with the array but for the unintended arrival in the system of Voyager and the Val Jean, Janeway's destruction of the array was a corrective action that reinstated the Caretaker's self-destruct plan. Her actions therefore reinstated events that would have occurred absent Voyager's forcibly becoming involved. (VOY: "Caretaker")
  • In 2372, Lieutenant Torres assisted the Pralor Automated Personnel Units (APU) in developing a way to reproduce themselves. When first encountered by Voyager the Pralor APUs were found to be designed such that they could not create additional APUs. Torres had argued to Captain Janeway that helping the APUs to work around that design would "save them from extinction" since over time the APUs were becoming non-functional (either through age, accident, or war). Janeway refused, likening the modified design under consideration to being the "equivalent of altering their genetic structure," and therefore a Prime Directive violation. Saying that "extinction is often the natural end of evolution," Janeway refused to permit Torres to continue. The APU later kidnapped Torres and forced her, under duress, to develop a prototype that could serve as the new design standard and permit reproduction. Prior to her rescue Torres destroyed her work (in part because of revelations that the new design would be used primarily to gain advantage in a war). This action denied the APUs access to her design changes and eliminated the interference. (VOY: "Prototype")
  • In the early to mid 2370s, Captain Rudolph Ransom and the crew of the USS Equinox killed multiple nucleogenic lifeforms and used their bodies for fuel to greatly enhance their warp drive. Ransom felt that he was justified under Starfleet Regulation 3, which provided that "in the event of imminent destruction, a Captain is authorized to preserve the lives of his crew by any justifiable means." Captain Janeway rejected this reasoning, and declared his systematic murder of members of an alien society to be a direct violation of the Prime Directive. Ransom, preferring to fight both Voyager and the nucleogenic lifeforms than spend "thirty years in [the] brig," was eventually killed himself when the Equinox was destroyed by the aliens he had been killing. (VOY: "Equinox", "Equinox, Part II")
  • In 2374, Captain Benjamin Sisko worked with Elim Garak to force the Romulan Empire to enter into Dominion War under false pretenses. The Romulans up to that point had remained neutral in the conflict. Sisko and Starfleet felt that Federation and Klingon Empire would lose the war with the Dominion if they did not gain another ally. Both Sisko and Garak, with the knowledge and approval of Starfleet Command, created false evidence that ultimately convinced the Romulans that the Dominion was planning to renege on the Peace Treaty between the two governments and mount a full scale invasion. Participation in the war by the Romulans resulted in massive military and civilian casualties within Romulan society. (DS9: "In the Pale Moonlight")
While Sisko's actions would most likely have violated the Prime Directive under normal circumstances, he carried out this mission with Starfleet's blessings during time of war. As with TOS: "Errand of Mercy", when the Federation is at war there seem to be accepted exceptions to the Prime Directive. Sisko apparently faced no consequences whatsoever for his interference with Romulan internal matters.
  • Worf challenged and killed Gowron, Chancellor of the Klingon Empire in 2375. Worf's motive was he believed that Gowron was deliberately mishandling Klingon forces in an attempt to destroy the reputation of General Martok, thereby risking the entire war effort against the Dominion for personal political gain. Due to this Worf had previously been authorized by Captain Sisko to use whatever means were necessary to resolve the issue. Worf defeated Gowron in single combat, and for a few moments was hailed by the assembled Klingons as Chancellor of the Klingon Empire. However, he immediately abdicated in favor of Martok, who assumed the mantle. Prior to the duel Worf removed his combadge and indicated that he was not acting as a Starfleet officer but rather simply as a Klingon. (DS9: "Tacking Into the Wind")
The Prime Directive was not mentioned in the episode. Regardless, this major interference in Klingon internal matters by a Starfleet officer, even one who claimed to be acting as a civilian (without, it must be noted, formally resigning his commission), would seem to be a violation of the Prime Directive. As with other seeming violations during wartime, it is possible that this interference was ultimately excused as being ancillary to following orders during the war effort.
  • Also in 2375, Tom Paris attempted to influence the government of the Monean World Ocean to take more aggressive action to save their water-world from dissipation into space. When Paris proposed that some kind of direct interference take place to cause an otherwise recalcitrant Monean government to act, Captain Janeway declared that such interference with the internal workings of a government to be a violation of the Prime Directive. She thereafter forbade Paris from taking any such actions. Paris nonetheless attempted to destroy an oxygen refinery to demonstrate the dangers of continuing to operate them as the Moneans had been doing. His attempt was thwarted by Voyager, though. As a result Paris was demoted to the rank of Ensign and incarcerated in Voyager's brig for thirty days for insubordination, unauthorized use of a spacecraft, reckless endangerment and conduct unbecoming an officer. (VOY: "Thirty Days")
Paris is never directly declared to have violated the Prime Directive. It is possible that his failure to destroy the oxygen refinery meant his actions did not rise to more than an "attempted" violation. In any event, Janeway's punishment would appear in line with a major infraction of an important law or regulation: Paris was held in confinement for a month and denied visitors, decent food, and access to entertainment.
  • Finally in 2375, Admiral Matthew Dougherty, acting on orders from the Federation Council, formed an alliance with the Son'a to forcibly relocate the entire Ba'ku population (approximately 600 individuals) from their planet. This was intended to permit Son'a technology to collect metaphasic particles from the planet's rings and was required as the planet would become uninhabitable for decades after the life-extending particles were collected. Dougherty's rationale for interfering with the Ba'ku was that the Prime Directive simply did not apply. He stated that since the Ba'ku were not indigenous to the planet and that they "were never meant to be immortal," that removing them would simply be restoring their natural evolution. Dougherty's true motivation, however, was that collection of the particles could double lifespans throughout the Federation and that an entire new medical science would evolve as a result. Captain Picard did not accept this reason for an exception to the Prime Directive. He instead believed that Starfleet's participation in a forced relocation of a society would be "an attack on the very soul of the Federation." Picard therefore disobeyed Dougherty's direct orders, conspired with fellow crew members to commit an armed insurrection against the Admiral and his allies, and was threatened with a court martial when captured. Picard believed his refusal to accept orders that voided the Prime Directive was justified and that if "a court martial is the only way to tell the people of the Federation what happened here, then I welcome it." Picard's actions ultimately prevented the relocation of the Ba'ku and did not result in either his loss of rank or command. (Star Trek: Insurrection)
Picard's rejection of Dougherty's rationale is similar to Captain Kirk's refusal a century earlier to accept Captain Tracey's argument for violating the Prime Directive on Omega IV. As with Dougherty, Tracey believed his interference to be justified by the potential to achieve widespread life-extension benefits throughout the Federation. TOS: "The Omega Glory" In neither case was the potential for benefits to life in the Federation seen as a justification by either Kirk or Picard for the proposed societal interference. Also, Picard's refusal to obey what he viewed as invalid orders has a long history. The Nuremberg Trials helped establish the obligation of military personnel to question and, if appropriate, disregard seemingly improper orders. This prevents the simple defense of "I was only following orders" when an action otherwise viewed as unethical or a war crime – or a violation of the Prime Directive – is the natural result.

Other Notable Matters

  • The Prime Directive did not go into effect as a General Order until sometime after the 2160s (which is when the crew of the starship Horizon left behind books on technology and culture that radically altered the course of civilization on the planet Sigma Iotia II.) (TOS: "A Piece of the Action").
  • While the Prime Directive was not officially formulated until after the 2160s, the fundamental principles were an important part of Earth Starfleet procedures as early as 2152. (ENT: "The Communicator")
  • On stardate 43775.5, the USS Enterprise-D received a mission order from an admiral at Starfleet Command. According to the mission specifications, contact with the living spacecraft code named "Tin Man" were to include considerations for the Prime Directive. (TNG: "Tin Man")
  • Benjamin Sisko and his crew on Deep Space 9's orders were "to do everything short of violating the Prime Directive" to make Bajor and the Bajoran people ready for Federation membership. (DS9: "Emissary")
Sisko would walk a very fine line concerning the Prime Directive during the entire course of his command of Deep Space 9, the line becoming thinner over the years as he increasingly embraced his role as "Emissary". His influence over Bajor was so great that they backed out of Federation membership at the very last moment on his advice.(DS9: "Rapture")
  • A related order, known as the Temporal Prime Directive, was also created to prohibit giving individuals in/from the past information about the future. (VOY: "Endgame")
  • According to Rear Admiral Norah Satie on stardate 44769.2, Jean-Luc Picard had violated the Prime Directive a total of nine times since taking command of the USS Enterprise-D three and a half years prior. (TNG: "The Drumhead")

Appendices

Appearances

Apocrypha

In the TOS novel Strangers from the Sky, Vulcans had developed their own set of non-interference canon of laws in the 1870s. However, they did not hold Humans – with whom they made first contact – bound to these restrictions.

In the ENT novel By the Book, Captain Archer had to decide whether to supply one of the two cultures he met with technology to bring them on the level of the more advanced society.

In the TNG novel Double Helix: Double or Nothing the Resolution of Non-Interference was drafted and signed by all Federation members in 2175. By the 2190s the Prime Directive was in full force.

In the TOS novel Prime Directive, a Scale of Culture was developed in the early 2200s in order to measure cultural development of a civilization and monitor its development.

According to the CD-ROM game Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, one of the most serious violations of the Prime Directive was an event known as "The Galahad Incident" caused by an unauthorized entry of the USS Galahad into the civil war on Shiva Omicron IV in 2208. The Galahad used its phasers to stun an army of the Jerion faction during an attempted massacre, causing the unconscious Jerions to be themselves massacred. This eventually led to the destruction of the Jerion culture. This event became a test case for measuring the competency of a starship captain. Captain Joshua Mulrone Grant was court-martialed and imprisoned for his part in the genocide. At his court martial, he stated, "the Human Directive is the real Prime Directive."

The Temporal Prime Directive is referenced in the novel Federation, by Judith Reeves-Stevens. In this novel, the Temporal Prime Directive existed in both the time of TOS and in the time of TNG. There, both Kirk and Picard knew how to follow the Temporal Prime Directive, even though neither was capable of time travel (or at least not willful time travel).

In the alternate future seen in the Deep Space Nine Millennium book trilogy, the Federation, in the middle of fighting a fierce war with the Bajoran Ascendancy, suspended the Prime Directive. The timeline was later reset thanks to the efforts of the crew of Deep Space 9.

According to the FASA role-playing guide The Federation, the first captain being court-martialed for violating the Prime Directive was Captain James Gunther Smithson. On stardate 1/2803 he disabled the nuclear weapons of two governments on Vega Proxima preventing nuclear war. Smithson was relieved of command and dishonorably discharged from service.

The above references conflict with the episode TOS: "Court Martial", in which it was stated that no starship captain had ever faced general court-martial before, or imply that the above mentioned captains were in command of smaller vessels.

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