Question about the ST Prime Directive

Starfleet’s Prime Directive forbids interference with the development of intelligent species more technologically/scientifically primitive than the Federation member races, and (I presume) within Federation space or outside it. This rules out any conquest, colonization, or exploitation of them. It also rules out any form of officially sanctioned missionary work, whether religious or political, i.e., teaching them about democracy.

But it would also seem to rule out any form commerce with them. If they deal with Federation traders they will at least be made aware of the existence of Federation technology, which cannot help but affect their development.

But, as we’ve seen more than once on the shows, the Federation is a civilization where private merchants travel around at warp speeds in their own private spacecraft. Does it apply to them, and if so how is it enforced? And what about private, not-officially-sanctioned missionary work?

I always thought it applied just to Starfleet, rather than everyone in the Federation;

It’s more of a … guideline.


I always just assumed the traders were trading with people who either had their own warp technology, or somebody let the cat out of the bag and, even though the natives are still living in grass huts, they know there are people with spaceships. How primitive civilizations have anything worth trading for, I’m not sure.

Then again, Elaan of Troyyius wore dilithium crystals as awkward jewelry, so never mind that last part.

Since the Federation (depending on period/show) can use replicators to produce any material goods of which it has prototypes, the profit would be in new things – a primitive world’s art, music, foodstuffs, etc., all new to Federation customers. In addition, of course, to such natural resources as are scarce even within the Federation (depending on period/show), like dilithium.

BTW, I thought about the above in connection with the ST:NG episode where Quark’s ship lands in Roswell, NM in 1947 and he tries to work out a “business proposition” with the officers at the base. No one ever thinks to ask, “And what would you want in return? We could pay you in currency, but you can only spend it here. What do we have or make that an advanced race like yours needs?” The best response to which would be, art, music, foodstuffs, etc. (And, since we’re talking about Ferengi, human women. The horny bastards will fuck anything on two legs.)

I think Roddenberry bit off far more than the franchise could ever “chew” with the Prime Directive. It seems to be rather arbitrary in its regulations and its enforcement and I could see where many civilization who wanted cloaking technology, biological augmentation and the ability to trade weapons to less advanced cultures would simply say “Thanks, but no…” when the Federation came knocking on their door.

One thing that has always bothered me about the Star Trek universe is that it seems what is bad for EARTH is deemed to be bad for everybody else. I’m not certain that I remember an episode when human values were supplanted by non-human ones. I’m not even certain that Federation being on Earth isn’t seen as it being to “Earth-centric” is mission and its philosophy.

If Star Trek ever does return to television, I for one would like to see the Prime Directive be quietly moved further into the background. I don’t mean selling warp technology to unprepared races or exploiting less developed groups. Just deal with subjects without without forcing a Earth-based morality down the viewers throats.

But Elaan was going to be betrayed by one of her own guards, who had made a deal with the Klingons. So maybe it was the Klingons who had initiated First Contact, with the Federation just following up.

My point was, yes, they did have something worth trading for.

I don’t see how this defies the Prime Directive. The PD only applies to interference with pre-warp civilizations - ie, those most vulnerable to exploitation, or alteration of their arc of civilization by warp-capable species.

Merchants trade within the Federation (TOS and earlier), or with other warp-capable civilizations - Ferengi, Klingon, Cardassian, Romulan, Breen, etc. A lot of these are, of course, out at various points in the timeline, due to war, but even in times of war, the Federation and her enemies aren’t the only warp-capable civilizations out there.

But, a merchant might want to trade with a pre-warp civilization, if it has anything he thinks he can sell.

BTW, I’ve always wondered whether it was a violation of the PD for Kirk even to try to honestly buy dilithium from the Hulkans in the “Mirror, Mirror” episode. We tend to overlook that because Mirror-Kirk’s/Starfleet’s approach to the matter is . . . so very different.

Yes. The actual rule is:

“No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations. Unless it would be inconvenient not to.”

…or if you are Janeway and just don’t give a flying fuck.

“Or unless we really, really want to. Or plot-logic demands it. Or leaving the primitive culture just as we found it would ruin the whole point of the story. Or we need a base on this planet to keep an eye on the Klingons/Romulans/Cardassians/Dominion. Or we simply judge the PD not to apply because this society was already changed by pre-Federation or unauthorized human contact, as in ‘A Piece of the Action’ or ‘Patterns of Force’ or ‘The Omega Glory.’ Or the writers seem simply to have forgotten the PD ever existed, as in ‘Errand of Mercy.’”

The PD is a hardy perennial of Trekker discussions. Previous threads that may be of interest:

Unless something or someone else already screwed up the planet, we’re just trying to unscrew it. To set them back on the path of normal development.

Landrucrewing the planet. The Klingons are arming one part of the planet. Somebody left a book here about gangs of Chicago. Somebody told them about the Nazis. That computer was doing everything for them, they need to do stuff on their own. Computerized warfare is stupid. They need a taste of Armageddon to realize that peace is the right thing. (and many many more)

Poul Anderson’s Solar Spice and Liquors. :slight_smile:

Green slave girls?

The Prime Directive was brought up in “Bread and Circuses” to answer the plot question, “Why doesn’t Scotty just send in an attack team and end the episode after fifteen minutes?”

And Spock admits that, yes, they do take an oath to die rather than violate the PD.

McCOY: “Must you always be so blasted honest?!”

The only “stick” I could see (if we rule out imprisonment), is: If a commercial trader is caught “violating” the PD, he/she/it might lose their trading or buisness permit.