Alien Non-Interference Clause
"As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely."
— Starfleet General Order 1 (also known as the Prime Directive)
, Star Trek
Even without ever having met a real culture from outer space, mankind has experienced firsthand the sort of disaster that can come from First Contact
between a technologically-advanced society and a technologically-primitive and/or culturally-different one. Case in point: much of the European age of exploration and colonization included a great deal of war, exploitation, cultural assimilation (both forced and not) and even genocide across Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas, including cultures that, according to modern research, may have been more advanced than we once believed.
It's mainly for this reason that Science Fiction
writers came up with the concept of the Alien Non-Interference Clause: in the future, it is believed, people will have learned from the mistakes of the past and take steps from preventing the same mistakes from recurring as humans explore space.
Of course, like the original Prime Directive, such rules are ultimately an Obstructive Code of Conduct
that brings conflict to a story. Crash landing on an inhabited world when this rule is in force brings obvious difficulties. Trying to study an alien culture without being discovered is a popular scenario. And where do you draw the line? Is there a point where a species is officially "mature" enough to let them in on the secrets of the universe? Does non-interference mean you're morally obliged to let a species suffer or die because it is their "natural development"? And what will happen when the "protectees" do develop advanced technology
and discover that alien races have been watching them for generations… and consider themselves pretty darn righteous for their policy of non-assistance? There's also the little matter of how one defines a culture's "normal evolution" or "healthy development"; in addition to the aforementioned "letting them all die" aspect, if a society seems happy but social development has "stagnated", does that justify stepping in to nudge them in the right direction, or should you assume that they might possibly be able to do so in their own time?
A common twist on the trope is to have such a law in effect, and then come across an alien race that is eager
to gain tech and knowledge from the humans. What happens then? Can you get away with telling the aliens You Are Not Ready
? Where does the rule stop being about "preserving alien cultures" and start being about "keeping the humans (or The Federation
) as the dominant power
"? One ironic inversion is to have a second, more advanced set of aliens show up and refuse to help because they have this exact same clause, essentially turning the tables and putting the protagonist on the receiving end of this "benign neglect".
This also appear as the reason that aliens aware of our existence, or even visiting our planet in secret have not announced their presence to us. Usually, the condition to join interstellar society is the independent development of starships or faster-than-light travel
, or at least to starting to colonise other planets in the Solar System.
Compare Balance Between Good and Evil
for a more cosmic variation. Contrast Technology Uplift
, when the aliens don't have this clause. See also Low Culture, High Tech
; Villains Act, Heroes React
(since laws of this kind often forbid higher powers from taking the initiative but do not
prevent them from responding to a threat by the lower powers). Protagonists who tend to say Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right
usually treat this as a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow
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Anime & Manga
- Please Teacher! is a rare example of the protagonist being severely punished for violating a noninterference clause. Mizuho is drummed out of the Observer Corps and her presence is wiped from the memories of all of the earthlings she came into contact with including her husband Kei.
- Ano Natsu De Matteru: The Federation prohibits contact with primitive, "Class F" planets. The twist? The primitive planet is Earth.
- The Galaxy Police in Tenchi Muyo! tend to treat Earth as this. One story in the manga had an higher up order Mihoshi to use a special net to cloak a space-faring Biker Gang from being seen. However, the Juraians tend to pussyfoot around this and it's stated that First Contact's already been made and they think we're not ready to go yet.
- From Marvel Comics: The Watchers have an "observe, don't interfere" law in place (thus their species' name). Eventually revealed to be the result of accidentally destroying another species by giving its members advanced scientific knowledge way too soon. (Uatu, the Watcher who is assigned to Earth, violates this law rather frequently in order to protect the Earth, having taken a liking to its inhabitants, and he has often gotten in trouble with his people because of it.) One of Uatu's favorite methods of skirting the law when he doesn't flagrantly violate it is to simply show up to observe in person. Given that he can just as effectively watch an event from light-years away, the only purpose this serves is to warn Earth's heroes that something of cosmic significance is about to happen.
- Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire:
- Humans are forbidden from interfering with any race not advanced enough for space travel by Lord Thezmothete, because Mega Corps used to enslave such species.
- Also the Teleporter considered humans to be animals because they couldn't teleport, though he did indeed interfere.
- In a Masters of the Universe comic, Zodac and other Cosmic Enforcers are tasked with observing all that transpires in the Universe but not interfering except to maintain the balance between good and evil. Because of this on the rare examples when they do interfere they are just as likely to help the bad guys as the heroes.
- In The Wrong Reflection Captain Kanril Eleya invokes the Prime Directive as a reason why she can't tell the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance how to build a cloaking device (that and the fact that, per Star Trek Online's backstory, it would probably violate standing orders from the President). However, she does decide that she can even the odds and tell them how to defeat the Terran Empire's cloaking devices.
Films — Live-Action
- In the World of Lone Wolf, the Shianti are a race of demigods that settled on Magnamund thousands of years ago. On request from the goddess Ishir, they are now forbidden from interfering in human affairs, even though Wytch-King Shasarak, one of their number, is doing just that. Of course, when a human baby accidentally lands on their island, there Ain't No Rule about teaching him to use magic and "allowing" him to go into the world to deal with the threat.
- Star Trek is the Trope Codifier: whether or not they did it first, they're the one most people have likely heard about.
- The series has been somewhat inconsistent over where the borders of the rule lie. One fairly consistent point is that unless the culture in question is already aware of sentient life beyond their planet, or is technologically advanced enough (i.e. they possess Warp Drive) that such contact is inevitable in the immediate future, it's forbidden for Federation personnel to expose their existence to the aliens of the week. Multiple stories involve this being violated by accident, requiring the crew to scramble to do damage control. Standard procedure in the TNG era seems to be inducing Laser-Guided Amnesia via invasive brain surgery. There is usually a hole somewhere "big enough to fly the Enterprise through".
The Agony Booth:
It really makes me wonder why such a troublesome plot device was ever introduced in the first place. Every captain in Trek
history has basically wiped their ass with it
, and it really does little besides call attention to the flaws within the franchise itself, something no good story should ever do.
- The Original Series, at the very least, typically bypassed the Prime Directive by placing the ship and/or the crew in dire peril, with the only solution being one that would devastate/completely change the local society (see "The Apple" or "A Taste of Armageddon"), or by having the crew fix a problem caused by humans in the first place. In "The Return of the Archons", Kirk justified pulling the plug on the master computer Landru by saying that the Prime Directive was meant to apply to living cultures and the computer-controlled world was not one, which is a very thin justification indeed.
- There are also at least two rules which override the Prime Directive: the Temporal Prime Directive (prevent/reverse changes to the timestream) and the top-secret Omega Directive (prevent anyone from learning of or producing the Omega molecule, which destroys Subspace).
- One Next Generation episode, "First Contact" (no relation to the movie) deals with the justified aspects of the Prime Directive. The Enterprise crew are on a secret First Contact mission to the Malcorians, a species on the verge of discovering Warp Drive. Over wine with the planetary Chancellor, Picard discusses with him the justifications of the Prime Directive and their obligation to leave the Malcorians alone if that is their wish. The Malcorians, who mirror 20th century humans in many ways, are undergoing cultural turmoil because of their rapid march of technology. Meanwhile, Riker was doing covert surveillance when he was injured and hospitalized: it becomes difficult to hide the fact that he's not one of them and he almost dies because the distrustful minister of security tries to use him to convince the Chancellor not to trust the humans. Because of this, Chancelor Durken ultimately decides that his people are not ready to learn they're not alone, though he promises to spend money and effort on education so they'll be prepared when the time comes.
- In some instances, though, there have been Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who use a similar rule on the Federation protagonists,just to point out how douchey it looks when you're on the short end of it. Big example being "Prime Factors" in Voyager, where aliens that were entirely aware of and even sympathetic to Voyager's situation and capable of transporting most of the way across the galaxy decided that they had to be Lawful Stupid about sending the ship well on its way home. Of course, part of it was that they were just unwilling to lose a potential source of entertainment that Voyager's extensive database could provide. In the end groups of low-ranking crew and citizens from both sides just trade for it, and the tech turns out to be incompatible.
- And then there are the times when they do finally feel justified in breaking the rule, such as in the TOS episode where it is discovered that the Klingons have been arming one of the tribes of a primitive planet. Kirk feels it's their obligation to offer the competing tribe a similar level of weaponry to defend themselves.
- In the episode "A Piece of the Action" and some Expanded Universe material, it's been stated that the Prime Directive does not apply in cases where a pre-warp civilization has already been affected ("contaminated") by another outside influence. As Spock noted in the episode, the damage is done, with the civilization fully aware of aliens' existence, and the crew has to deal with it as it is.
- By the time of The Next Generation, the Prime Directive has been interpreted to prohibit interference in the internal affairs of other cultures even if the culture is an advanced star-faring civilization. This came up during the brief Klingon civil war, where the Federation was unable to directly get involved, although they did block and expose the Romulains who were supporting one of the sides which help win the war for their side.
- And ultimately, we learn that the Federation's prime directive is derived from the Vulcans, who would not have made First Contact had they not observed humanity's first warp drive flight.
- Disturbingly invoked (and possibly incorrectly at that) in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Janeway and Paris are stranded on a prewarp (but still advanced) planet that is using a source of energy that will literally wipe out all life on the planet the next day. Despite Paris' wish to warn them, Janeway orders him not to, citing the Prime Directive... despite the fact that this interference would literally save everyone and doesn't seem to contradict the actual Prime Directive.
- Also seen in TNG "Pen Pals" and "Homeward". In those cases, extinction was part of the culture's "natural development," and in the former case Picard decided that they had to intervene upon a direct plea for help from the planet.
- TOS' "The Paradise Syndrome" indicated that the Starfleet of the time disagreed - the Enterprise's mission is to prevent an extinction-event asteroid strike (but still without revealing themselves to the natives). Evidently Starfleet re-interpreted the Prime Directive to no longer be a shield for less developed cultures but rather a dogma at some point between TOS and TNG.
- In the TNG episode "Symbiosis", the Ornarans are suffering from a fatal disease and are dependent on medicine provided by the Brekkians, but this has lead to the Ornaran society falling apart, while the Brekkians have become so wealthy from the profits that they have centered their entire society on exploiting the Ornarans. It doesn't take long for Dr. Crusher to realize the disease was cured ages ago, and that they were suffering from the withdrawal symptoms; she wants to put an end to this, but Capt. Picard points to the Prime Directive, saying they cannot interfere. Picard then points out they can't interfere to maintain the status quo either. The Ornaran ships were no longer able to make supply runs for the medicine, and they wanted the Enterprise's help in repairing their fleet; by refusing, the Ornarans would have to face the withdrawal and hopefully get over it on their own.
- The alien Organians from The Original Series had evolved into Energy Beings and preferred not to interfere in the affairs of lower lifeforms including the Federation. Part of it was a desire to not interfere in a species' natural development. A big part was they found interacting with other lifeforms disgusting since they could not stand any pain or violence and evolved specifically to get away from it. They only stopped the Klingon-Federation War because they found the potential bloodshed even worse. They eventually stopped enforcing the peace though the reasons why vary from losing interest to Expanded Universe reasons of being somehow removed from this universe.
- A Star Trek: Enterprise episode involves the Enterprise finding a pre-warp race that is dying from species-wide genetic disorder. They have met other warp-capable cultures (the Ferengi were one of them), were unable (or unwilling) to help them either with the cure or with achieving warp flight. Phlox manages to find the cure but in the process discovers that there is another sentient race living on the same world who are being deliberately kept down by the dying race. He argues to Archer that evolution is killing off one race to raise another (try not to head-desk at that). While Archer initially dismisses Phlox's concerns and prepares to hand them the cure, he eventually agrees that it's not up to him to play God. Mind you, this is before the Prime Directive, which he lampshades by commenting that maybe someday they'll come up with one to tell captains like him what to do in these situations. He also refuses to give them warp technology, but only because it would be irresponsible to give it to someone with no experience handling Anti Matter. Basically, the episode canonizes the Prime Directive and everyone who invokes it as Head-in-the-Sand Management.
- A few other ENT episodes involve them finding primitive cultures and exploring them without interference. On one of them they stop a group of off-planet criminals who are poisoning the local water supply. On another, a thief steals a communicator from a member of the (disguised) landing party, forcing them to come back to retrieve it, only to be captured by the local State Sec suspecting them of being spies for their enemies. Human technology and various biological differences baffle the captors, but Reed manages to convince them that they're Super Soldiers genetically-engineered by their rivals. They manage to escape with the communicator, only for Archer to grimly point out that they have already interfered in local affairs. Now they think that their enemies are growing an army of Super Soldiers with advanced weapons.
- Babylon 5 may or may not have had a formal rule but advanced races could and did deny technology to other races believed to be "not ready".
- Londo actually tells the Earth government in In The Beginning that the Centauri as a matter of policy do not sell advanced weapons systems to developing worlds. This does not stop their enemies, the Narns, from selling Earth pirated Centauri weapons technology at a sizeable profit.
- In the episode, "Deathwalker", a renegade Dilgar scientist named Jha'dur is captured but bargains her freedom with a breakthrough medication that grants immortality. Before her medication can be mass-produced, she is killed by the Vorlons. Ambassador Kosh tells an assembled audience, "You are not ready for immortality."
- Epsilon III was declared off limits to all (episode "A Voice In The Wilderness") because the technology of the giant computer contained there would give any one race that got it an unfair advantage.
- After the Vorlons had left the galaxy, a number of people attempted to travel to Vorlon to lay claim to the advanced technology there; all of them got shot down. Lyta explains that humanity was not presently meant to have Vorlon technology and won't be for about a million years.
- On the other hand, in the Crusade spin-off series, Captain Matthew Gideon would launch a full spread of modified probes (uploaded with considerable information about Earth and the Interstellar alliance) at a pre-hyperspace planet at the end of Visitors From Down the Street, which abounds in X-Files references. The Excalibur picked up two agents from an alien world who are looking for proof of a government cover-up. They show pictures of Mount Rushmore and old Earth blimps. They also dress in Earth fashions from 200 years go (ie: from the time period at the time of the show's shoot). One of them can speak English because of information stolen from the conspirators. The Reveal: Years before, the government had found itself in a time of social unrest similar to The Sixties. Upon discovering Earth broadcasts, they used them as part of a truly Magnificent conspiracy; manufacture appropriate "evidence", then dispatch The Men in Black to suppress it. The resultant subculture of Conspiracy Theorists absorbed the government's critics and kept them wasting their time chasing "aliens" rather than engaging in civil disobedience. Every crime the government committed afterward was thus blamed on "Outsiders" who secretly manipulated their civilization, permitting them to do as they pleased. Gideon's reasoning for launching the probes to expose the real conspiracy: the government already knew about alien life, and was using humans as scapegoats for unpopular domestic decisions. If that went on unimpeded, they would be a hostile power once they did discover starflight. Gideon's interference was motivated as a rebuttal to the accusations being made against Earth. He was questioned about whether this violated any non-interference principles and replied "Screw 'em."
- One minor race that embraced the idea was featured in a single episode, and everyone they met reacted with abject horror at their callousness. Other than using the word "inferior" instead of "less advanced" it was basically the original Prime Directive.
- The Interstellar Alliance has rules about not monkeying about with the cultural and internal affairs of its members, but it also has a Declaration of Principles that all of those members have to sign, so we can be fairly certain none of them have anything really obnoxious in their culture (like killing people for stepping in the wrong field).
- An important point is that none of the races now around developed hyperspace travel. They all copied it at first, and it dates back to the First Ones. Furthermore, rather than being out of concern for a species development, technology is traded purely on selfish reasons. When Humanity was contacted we sent a few sublight probes to the nearest stars not to arrive until years later. We bought most of our better technology from the Centauri and then developed it. However one thing is clear, joining the Interstellar Alliance gives the nice carrot of artificial gravity to less developed races.
- An interesting detail about hyperspace travel is that, according to the Expanded Universe, at least, not only has no currently present species developed it, but none ever could. The key material for all known forms of hyperspace travel, Quantium-40, is explicitly stated to never be found in systems with habitable planets.
- The races of the Stargate Verse vary in their approach to this.
- The Tau'ri (Earth humans) reject it and hold it as their duty to help humans and less advanced, non-hostile races on other worlds, usually from aggressive and more powerful enemies who seek to either enslave or destroy them. Whilst they will gladly offer beneficial industrial or medical technology to their allies, they (generally) draw the line at giving up advanced military technology, especially when it's obvious that doing so would be detrimental either to their civilisation or give their allies an unfair advantage over other foreign powers present on their world. It helps that the "aliens" are usually Transplanted Humans and not technically a different species.
- The Tollan follow it strictly after their neighboring planet self-destructed because of technology they were given. They firmly refuse to give up any technology to less-advanced races, even beneficial devices that have no military or strategic value at all.
- The Asgard generally don't share their tech with less advanced races, but make numerous exceptions for the Tau'ri because over the course of the series, they have proven themselves both trusted allies and responsible enough to use the technology wisely. To the point where Thor convinced the Asgard to bequeath the Tau'ri all of their technology, when the Asgard chose to commit ritual suicide after their clone degeneration became irreversible.
- The Ori and the Goa'uld flaunt their tech and meddle all the time, posing as gods to less advanced civilizations.
- In addition, the Asgard and the Goa'uld have a treaty which leaves certain human worlds free from Goa'uld influence in exchange for limiting their development and preventing direct Asgard interference (they can pose as gods, though, a necessity for those primitive cultures to understand their situation). Earth gets lumped into this treaty, but they wormed their way out of the tech restriction. In one episode Stargate Command discovered an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. They asked the Asgard for help, but the Asgard refused on the grounds that their treaty with the Goa'uld prohibited averting natural disasters. The asteroid turned out to have been artificially created and dropped off by hyperspace, but by that time Earth had to save itself.
- There's also the Ancients, who turn out to have Ascended long ago. Where Star Trek's Prime Directive draws the line at the invention of Faster-Than-Light Travel, these guys won't interfere with those who are still corporeal. Unfortunately, this also extends to (1) what's done with all the supertech they left behind when they Ascended, and (2) allowing evil by fellow ascended individuals, such as Anubis and the Ori. If as an Ancient, you try to stop the bad guys from abusing Ancient tech, or even try to prevent a half-ascended Evil Overlord (whose idea was it to make frakkin' Anubis a candidate for ascension, anyway? No, really, who?note ) from razing a whole planet, you will find yourself kickbanned right back to corporeality. There's a reason the Neglectful Precursors page has an entire section devoted to these guys alone. Daniel only allowed himself to be ascended to the Ancients' level because he thought he could do more good among them, and is human again now because, well... he was wrong.
Of course, the real reason the Ancients are such Neglectful Precursors are because the power we see on the rare occasions they cut loose means they are capable of solving the plot in ten seconds flat. The Ascended Prime Directive is how the writers got out of painting themselves into the corner with finally revealing who the Ancients are (presumably, when all we knew about them was "once upon a time, someone built awesome tech, and then the Goa'uld ganked it," the writers didn't have in mind a race that was nigh-omnipotent and still present.) They could finish the Goa'uld, deal with the Wraith and the Asurans, and bring the crew of the Destiny back to Earth with a thought — the main problems of the three series, all problems they created by leaving their stuff lying around — but where's the fun in that?
- In Stargate Atlantis, a coalition of various Pegasus Galaxy civilisations wish that Humanity had one of these. They capture the Atlantis team to put Humanity on Trial over the sheer amount of death and destruction that has occurred ever since they showed up. Mostly because they were doing just fine with the "get culled every few centuries" thing and the Atlantis team bumped that date up by a considerable amount, ruining all their lives.
- They also didn't win any points for accidentally teaching the Asurans how to alter their base-code, leading them to be able to go on the war-path against the Wraith. Which sounds good on paper, but considering their primary tactic consisted of wiping out human worlds to deprive Wraith of their only source of food... they were understandably a little miffed.
- And they were responsible for Michael, who after being experimented on to create a drug that suppressed Wraith DNA and leave the Human elements behind, was left with a huge chip on his shoulder. Michael later would use this research to create Hybrids and build an army to take over the galaxy. In at least one Bad Future, he even won.
- And they accidentally perfected the Hoffan drug, a vaccine that prevents Wraith feeding, but kills half of those vaccinated with it. This lead to the Wraith wiping out any world they even suspected had been exposed.
- In Doctor Who, the Time Lords adopted an official policy of neutrality and non-interference, acting only as observers save in cases of great injustice, after granting advanced technology to the Minyans who then destroyed themselves in a series of nuclear wars. Which is not to say they always adhered to it... Or in the Doctor's case, ever. He at least limits his involvement to "stop the threat of the week, then hop back in the TARDIS", and isn't keen on, say, 21st century Britain having particle guns. In "Aliens of London", he tells Rose that he can't interfere in First Contact, because it's something humans have to do on their own. Once he realizes the aliens are a threat...
Captain Jack Harkness actually calls him out on this in his first appearance in "The Empty Child", saying that he "Should've known [they] weren't Time Agents [by their poor attempts at fitting in in WWII England]." Played completely for laughs by the time of the 11th Doctor, who explains his Prime-Directive-ish policy to Amy Pond in "The Beast Below" — she turns away to digest it, and by the time she's turned back, the Doctor has zipped away to start actively interfering on board Starship UK.
- A rare non-science fiction example of this trope is from the 8th season JAG episode “In Country”, where Bud bonds with a suspected terrorist by discussing the merits of the Prime Directive, as both are fans of ''Star Trek'', using this to obtain useful information. (All this as opposed to an ineffective asshole CIA Officer who’d advocated torture to extract information.)
- In Classic Traveller, the Scout service asked for Red Zone classification for planets with developing civilizations to protect them from off world interference. Though most of the time the Third Imperium will reveal itself to TL 5 (approx. mid-20th century) planets, or whenever they decide the locals can comprehend the existence of extraterrestrial life.
- Manhunter. The A.T.P.D.S. places Protected World status on planets with young civilizations to stop interference that could change the course of the civilization's natural advancement. It also has laws that prevent its citizens from interfering with the civilizations on unexplored planets.
- The Pangalactic Federation of Star Ocean has the Undeveloped Planet Preservation Pact, which differs from the Star Trek version in that people don't get in as much trouble if they break out the advanced tech to save their own lives. The UP3 was made with good reason, even if only a handful of the architects of it knew the real reason why it was put in place - someone did destroy a planet by providing advanced tech, and became the main architect of the UP3 as a result. Which may be somewhat of a plot hole when you consider that in the rules of the UP3, a 20th century world can be upgraded from "Protected Planet" (no interference) to "Developing Planet" (eligible for contact and technological uplifting). The planet that was destroyed leading to the creation of the UP3 was mid-20th century. On the other hand, it can also be interpreted as cooler heads prevailing, and realizing that one guy feeling guilty about picking up the Idiot Ball and giving antimatter to a Mad Scientist who blows up her planet with it doesn't mean other worlds can't be contacted in a more reasonable manner.
- Mass Effect plays with this trope a fair bit.
- While none of the civilizations of the verse have such a rule, salarian scientist Mordin Solus holds the view that there should be one, citing the fiasco with the krogan as an example. Background: as a primitive species, the krogan had been given advanced technology to help turn around a losing Bug War against the rachni. But the krogans' prodigious birth rate (previously balanced out by the fact that they came from a Death World where only one in a thousand krogan survived to reach adulthood), combined with their natural aggression, led to them turning around and becoming as much of a menace to other sapient species as the aforementioned rachni. It took the "genophage" sterility plague to keep them from overrunning the galaxy.
- We learn in Mass Effect 2's Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC that when new pre-spaceflight races are discovered, the Citadel sends "First Contact Teams" to their home planets to begin sharing technology, updating translators and explaining Citadel laws and culture to the newly discovered species, preparing them to join the galactic scene. Then they ran into the yahg, a species even more brutal than the krogan, who massacred the first contact team. This led to the Council 'blockading' the planet, preventing anyone getting off it (with one exception, an individual that was snuck off-planet possibly as a sort of living trophy. The sneaker was The Shadow Broker, and that yahg took his place by killing him, and remained on that throne for sixty years until Liara came along.) So while they don't hold a general rule requiring it, they do seem to adopt this policy on a case-by-case basis. Then it's revealed in the next game that the salarians are planning to uplift the yahg as shock troops. One has to wonder why salarian culture revolves around science if they never seem to learn from mistakes.
- This forms part of the backstory before the game. The turians first discovered humanity trying to activate an uncharted mass relay, and intervened because doing so is a major faux-pas: the last time someone did it, they found the rachni, which ended well. Of course, instead of contacting the humans and explaining what was going on (how were pre-contact humanity supposed to know an unknown Galactic Law prevents them from tinkering with the relays?), the turians opened fire instead. This started a 3-month-long conflict which humans call "the First Contact War" and turians "the Relay 314 Incident." It only ended when the Council finally learned of the situation. The Council were naturally furious to find out that the turians had performed a pre-emptive strike on an unknown species without getting authorisation.
- The geth enforce this on themselves as they believe all species should self-determinate.
- The Protoss of StarCraft had this policy ever since an incident with a minor race called the Kalath. Some researchers revealed themselves in an attempt to stop a civil war and both sides attacked the Protoss instead, Collossi were built and used to decimate their population. The Protoss even considered the warp-capable Terrans to qualify as "lesser races" under that policy and only revealed themselves to "purify" Terran colonies that became infested by the Zerg.
- In Kingdom Hearts, the protagonists have a self-imposed "No meddling" rule that's summarized as "Don't let anybody know you're from another world" and "Don't interfere in the normal affairs of the world you're visiting". The only exceptions allowed is when it would go against not stopping the bad guys which are using dimension-invading monsters you're supposed to be fighting. This rule is mostly forgotten in subsequent games, mostly because the villains have meddled so much that not doing anything would lead to the collapse of the universe. In an interesting twist, the villains actually play to this more than the heroes do, at least in 358/2 Days where several levels have Stealth Based Missions. By the time of II, however, their plan is almost complete and they can afford to be much more open in their manipulations.
- In Spacetrawler
- "Dark Planets" home to sapient life with no significant space presence are not supposed to be contacted. The system is still ripe for exploitation: species can be declared non-sapient for spurious reasons like bad fashion sense, and species who do achieve space travel immediately become fair game for any other species to conquer.
- The truth turns out to be more insidious, Qwahntoo, the founder of the GOB, used the classification to cut off planets he considered to be threats. For instance humans are related to the Eebs that he enslaved.
- Deconstructed (as part of an extended Take That against Trek in general) in Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger. The "First Law" is pointed out to have been written to keep con artists from starting cargo cults... not to ignore when a civilisation is to be eaten by an alien probe, just because they haven't mastered FTL yet. Unfortunately, this is all pointed out by the Wesley of the crew, who (despite basically being the only person onboard with half a brain) is promptly told to shut up about halfway through his explanation. In a later arc the hero's government convicts the Picard-parody of eight million counts of negligent homicide for refusing to divert a comet that wiped out a bronze age civilization he and his ship were observing. The judges even go so far as to call the Federation's policies "racist".
- Schlock Mercenary:
- While they don't seem to follow it too strictly, the Nemesites in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! have a non-interference policy toward Earth in the form of designating us as a nature preserve, because any species without interstellar travel is considered wildlife. While this was initially treated as a joke, Voluptua has since pointed out that, at least in the short run, it is probably a good thing for us, since inducting us suddenly into the Space Empire which surrounds us would create total havoc on Earth.
- In the podcast story Space Casey humans have interplanetary travel but the "Old Ones" are keeping them isolated from galactic society, ostentatiously for our own good. Though they do allow one researcher to come to our system once every hundred years or so. And eventually it turns out that the "Old Ones" are just a pair of con artists pulling a fast one on the galaxy with some technology from the future.
- In STO Forum: Versus thread (rp) Eleya grumbles a bit about the Prime Directive ("I am so getting court-martialled for that") after Kang stun-snipes a priestess to stop her from performing a Human Sacrifice (she was trying to avoid interfering too much, but they were low on water and needed to trade). Kang justifies himself by the fact that the Klingons don't have a PD-equivalent: they work it on a case-by-case basis. Eleya also considers that they may have deterred them from performing more sacrifices in the future, which is probably a net positive.
- Parodied by Futurama with Directive B10.8:1 A.K.A. "Brannigan's Law"; the law itself is pretty straight but Brannigan doesn't actually understand it himself, and ends up breaking it at one point. As Leela points out in the episode this comes up in, the law is inconsistently applied. In this case, it prevents people from interfering by evacuating the local life-forms from a planet which is doomed because people already came and interfered by mining out its entire core.
- In Superman: The Animated Series, Mr. Mxyzptlk's species had something like this; in his second appearance, the rulers of his dimension put him on trial for "meddling with an under-evolved species" (along with violating dimensional travel laws, and worst of all, not keeping his word, which is apparently a serious crime there). As punishment, he was banished to Earth's dimension (without his powers) and required to do a good deed for the inhabitants. Superman ordered him to perform three months' community service as his good deed...on Bizarro World.
- The Other Wiki has a list of peoples who have kept culturally isolated or were until fairly recently. Most of them have an estimated three hundred or fewer people (which is not a sustainable population without massive problems due to inbreeding). In general unconnected people are left alone to protect them from disease, or because they are actively hostile.
- The Fermi Paradox is the unresolved question of why we haven't had aliens visiting since before we even evolved into modern humans. After all, our sun is relatively young, and there would have been more than enough time since the beginning of the universe for a Galactic Superpower to have formed. One answer is the "zoo hypothesis," which states that aliens are under some equivalent of the Prime Directive. Or, less benignly, that they want us to stay lab rats, or not become a potential rival.
- NASA once prevented the Galileo probe, which was exploring Jupiter, from crashing into the moon Europa. Europa has a chance of holding life, and they don't want risk "infecting" the moon with microbes from Earth, which could kill all life on Europa before it is even confirmed to exist. (They de-orbited it into Jupiter instead.) For the protection of any ecosystems that might exist on possibly life-bearing worlds, there exist specific international rules governing how 'clean' spacecraft must be if they are going to contact such worlds. NASA has Planetary Protection Officers charged with overseeing the compliance with these rules. (Galileo itself would have been in the least strict classification, being a remote sensing platform that would not be expected to physically contact a possibly life-bearing world. The Huygens lander was in a higher category, since it was to land on a world we cannot be certain contains no life of any kind. A lander like Viking is in the most strict category, since it needs to be both clean enough to not risk contaminating the target world, but also its own life-detecting experiments. This is required because it was proven with the portions of the Surveyor 3 probe recovered by Apollo 12 that microbes can survive for years in protected spots inside spacecraft otherwise exposed to open space.)
- Laws established for the protection of endangered species often require that they be left entirely undisturbed by humans, even when taking action might preserve individual members of that species (e.g. letting baby sea turtles crawl into the sea without help). Like the prime directive, this can have bizarrely inconsistent effects. Areas are made inaccessible to development because they are an edge territory for a protected species, while the nearby area where they thrive has no protection at all.