Sulu does exactly this in the 1989 novel The Kobayashi Maru - just refuses to enter the Neutral Zone. Other authors have explored variations and I have to admit, the entire test seems more like an amusing role-playing game with little value as an actual training tool. Aside from starting TWOK in a violently cool fashion, as well as introducing the Saavik character, I’m still unclear on what the test was supposed to accomplish.
As an afterthought, Kirk does “call for help” when the Enterprise enters the Romulan NZ in “The Enterprise Incident”, to be told smugly by Subcommander Tal that the message would take “three weeks” to arrive. This kinda makes me wonder what happened when it did - since the mission was all hush-hush, were there out-of-the-loop officers at Starfleet Command who went all “He did WHAT?!” when they learn the Enterprise has wandered into the Zone.
I don’t see how following regulations in this instance would make one unfit for command. Even the starship commander has a superior they have to answer to. Their superiors want the commanders following orders in a sane fashion, not running off with their ultra-powerful ultra-expensive spaceship and endangering its crew on a whim. I’d say it’s the opposite, running off with their spaceship and starting an interstellar war would be just the sort of thing that would make me question their capability to command. Sometimes your orders make you do unpleasant things.
Maybe in the ST Universe that was how it was originally intended? The inventive responses that involve trying to save the stranded ship make the characters more interesting, but I’m not sure I’d make them more likely for command outside of that universe.
One wonders whether, in the real world, refusing to unilaterally violate an extremely delicate peace treaty, and thereby potentially reignite a war against a technologically superior power, would be viewed as an “unfit for command” mindset.
I gather improvising and adapting in battle to complete the mission is praised.
Violating established regulations and treaties because “it’s the right thing to do”… not so much.
That said, the scene in TWOK is ambiguous. Sulu starts to remind Saavik of the consequences of a starship entering the neutral zone and she cuts him off with “I’m aware of my responsibilities, mister,” which kinda suggests to me that she is supposed to stage a rescue attempt, even in violation of treaty. At the very least, she’s not a great captain - she doesn’t hesitate at all to break treaty, but does hesitate repeatedly once things go sideways.
This isn’t quite the same thing, but the Military Order pf Maria Theresa, once the highest military award in the Austrian Military, was established for *“successful military acts of essential impact to a campaign that were undertaken on [the officer’s] own initiative, and might have been omitted by an honorable officer without reproach.” *
By TNG era, they would find another way to test them.
Remember when Wesley was at Academy? He was waiting for his psych eval test when there was a sudden catastrophic event. During the “emergency” he had to make a choice of whether to save a wounded person or help someone who was not wounded but freaking out. In his scenario, he chose to help the wounded comrade, leaving the capable person to his devices, which meant he either moved or died.
When the situation was over, it was revealed that this was his test. Similarities to the “No Win Scenario” test of TOS era were clear.
Also, remember the “Command Test” that required Troi to make the decision to send a friend to his death (LaForge, in the particular) to save the ship. She took it several times and grew frustrated until she figured it out.
As for effecting a rescue - I assume that the “law of the sea” applies in the sea of stars as it does on Earth. Ships in distress are the top priority, so long as you aren’t actively engaged in battle. Your side, the other side, civilian…it doesn’t matter. You MUST render assistance. Any cadet who refused because of a treaty should be cashiered and sent to the Merchant Marine as a regular crewman.