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Alien Non-Interference Clause

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"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
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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 is for this reason and others 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.

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Of course, such rules are ultimately an Obstructive Code of Conduct that creates as many problems as it solves. 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? At exactly what point is a species 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 or members of 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? And what should be done if the "protectees" are looking for extraterrestrial intelligence? 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?

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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 appears 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 starting to colonise other planets in the Solar System.

Compare Helping Would Be Killstealing. Contrast Technology Uplift, when the aliens don't have this clause. See also Low Culture, High Tech, which is what the violation of this rule can sometimes lead to. Also contrast The Right of a Superior Species, where interference is only allowed on underdeveloped cultures. Protagonists who tend to say Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! usually treat this as a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow. Also the Prime Directive that The McCoy is frequently reminded about.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Super: As explained by Gowasu, the Supreme Kai of Universe 10, the Kais are forbidden to interfere in the affairs of mortals; their job is to create life, watch over the mortals, and give them guidance. Unfortunately, Gowasu's apprentice, Zamasu, is firmly convinced that Humans Are Bastards and openly criticizes this policy, believing that The Gods Must Be Lazy.
    • The Galactic Patrol Prisoner Saga arc reveals that the angels have a more strict version of this rule, as they are not permitted to directly intervene with threats to the universe and they are only allowed to fight insofar as training other individuals. Violation of these rules results in "total eradication". Thus, Merus, being an Angel, promptly fades from existence after deciding to fight all out and seal Moro's ability to copy others' powers.
  • Earth is treated as a demilitarized zone for the various dragon factions in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, and dragons are forbidden from killing humans from there, and some dragons even believe that other dragons should not even live on Earth (like Damocles for instance), (though that doesn't cover "injure", or using their powers on Earth).
  • This is a kinda spoilerific plot point in Panzer World Galient. After Hilmuka is revealed to be a Human Alien from a sort of galaxy-spanning policing entity with a very Star Trek-esque non-interference directive, the story shows a bit of her struggle to help the people of Arst overthrow its Evil Overlord while fending off her Obstructive Bureaucrat colleagues. Conversely, Mardarl, said Evil Overlord, is also an alien from a similar civilization, but he could not care less about fucking up other planets in order to achieve his goals.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Waiting in the Summer: The Federation prohibits contact with primitive, "Class F" planets. The twist? The primitive planet is Earth.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe:
    • 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.
    • In Shogun Warriors four of the alien Followers of Light live in seclusion on Earth, bound by a non-intervention clause - but with an exception for the world-threatening return of their ancient foe Maur-Kon.
    • The reason the quite real pantheons of the world's cultures don't overtly interact with mortals anymore is this trope being enforced by The Celestials so their experiment with human evolution isn't interfered with.
  • Superman:
    • In Krypton No More:
      • Superman gets obsessed with stopping Earth from becoming another Krypton, and fearing pollution could destroy it, he goes on a rampage, destroying supertankers until his cousin Supergirl stops him, declaring that neither of them has right to impose their will on humans.
        Supergirl: And just where do you think you're going, cousin?
        Superman: Supergirl! Glad you're here! You can help me! This ship is a danger to all mankind — So we have to—
        Supergirl: Wrong! We aren't doing anything! We have no right to interfere!
      • Later she reiterates her position:
        Supergirl: The way you were acting towards Earth – trying to protect it from mankind, interfering in matters which were none of your business… matters which should rightfully be decided by humanity itself!
    • In Elliot S! Maggin's Must There Be a Superman?, the Guardians of the Universe plant the idea in Superman's head that he's been holding back the human race's development by making them too dependent on him. Ganthet states to another Guardian that they did their job by just mentioning it to him, and it would be enough for him to not do too much.
    • It gets echoed in JLA/Avengers when he tells Captain America he does worry about that. Earlier on in the same comic Batman tries to enforce this principle on him and the rest of the Justice League when they first end up in the Marvel Universe, only to break his own rule saving drug dealers from The Punisher.
  • 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, not even speaking to Godot until he'd made it look like he could teleport too.
  • 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 Bad Planet any alien civilization that mastered interstellar travel joins "the Grid", and one of their laws establish they cannot interact with lesser developed species who still haven't done that.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The Olympians have a rule about interfering on the mortal plane; don't unless invoked by a human. They don't always keep to this rule and it's enforcement is very inconsistent but there's a good reason behind it, for them to remain in the mortal plane for too long drains them and could turn the weaker of their number human or kill them. This is the rule Athena uses to turn Diana back into a mortal after rescuing her from death at Neron's hands by turning her into a god, since Diana broke the rule to help her human friends.

    Fan Works 
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, the Eridians have one on paper at least, but considering how much meddling has happened under the guise "If you do things right, the lesser races will not know you did anything", enforcement is weak at best. Contrast with the Trans-Galactic Republic that will happily engage in a Technology Uplift if the society in question agrees (though said uplift tends to happen on the Republic's terms). A faction of Eridians created the Yuuzhan Vong in tubes, stripped the Force from the galaxies, and left Forgotten Superweapons nearly everywhere in the name of avoiding a greater threat. Considering that threat is the Flood, they may have a point.
  • The Angels from Sonic X: Dark Chaos have a strong non-interference policy regarding Demon border galaxies in general and the Milky Way (and Earth) in particular. It's only when the Demons start moving in and curb-stomping the Metarex that they take action and invade the galaxy in retaliation.
  • In Lost in the Woods, a key issue faced by the Enterprise-D is the extent to which the Prime Directive applies in their current situation while they are in Alliance space (the parallel universe of Firefly), as the Alliance doesn't have warp or subspace but have clearly travelled a significant distance across space. While they ultimately decide not to make direct contact with the Alliance, the Enterprise crew do provide Serenity with as complete an upgrade as they can without making the ship significantly more advanced, and also destroy the Reavers completely once they confirm that the consequences of sparing the Reavers are even worse.
  • In The Odyssey Resurgence, Landry uses the history of the Tollan as an example of why he's reluctant to provide weapons technology to the Earth of Independence Day, but assures General Adams, ex-President Whitmore and David Levinson that he will provide them with other examples of advanced technology, such as power generators.
  • Defied in various ways in Contact at Kobol; not only do the Colonials attempt to impose their laws on Earth in the belief that it’s one of their colonies, but the Tau’ri also mount various subtle espionage operations against the Colonials even before the war begins (albeit just to make sure they avoid any potentially delicate issues). As the storyline unfolds, the Jaffa and the Nox each make it clear they will be staying out of the war with the Colonials, but primarily because they trust the Tau’ri to handle it, although the Nox do attempt to act as neutral arbiters only to be rejected because certain Colonials think the Nox are just Tau’ri in disguise.
  • Bait and Switch (STO):
    • 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, which they had acquired via third-party interference from the prime universe.
    • In A Voice in the Wilderness Eleya uses the Prime Directive as an excuse for not retaliating against D'trel for killing General Q'Nel with the backing of the Delta Alliance. It's stated later that she agrees with D'trel that Q'Nel had to go, though "political assassination isn't exactly in the handbook".
  • The Mysterious Case of Neelix's Lungs: "Factoring Primes" is a rewrite of the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Prime Factors", and likewise has the cast debate the relative merits of the Prime Directive in the context that the Sikarians are using their own version as a reason not to give space-folding technology to Voyager and Vetar.
    • Harry Kim brings up the argument of Earth's history indicating that even well-intentioned interference in other cultures can be disastrous (an argument Picard threw in one TNG episode). Tom Paris disagrees, pointing out that most of the cases of interference in other cultures on Earth were either purely self-interested with people either not caring about the other culture, or outright conquering them.
    • Celes Tal, a Bajoran enlisted crewman of Voyager, gives a flat What the Hell, Hero? regarding the Federation using the Prime Directive as an excuse to not involve itself in the occupation of Bajor by the Cardassians.
      "Now you know how my people felt."
    • For his part, Gul Evek points out that his crew, being Cardassian Guard, is not bound by the Prime Directive, and it's the Cardassians and ex-Maquis who come up with the plan to make a back-room deal for the spatial trajector.
  • In Rocketship Voyager the Prime Directive is a ban on miscegenation, so the idea of establishing a colony by Boldly Coming with an alien race is what's shocking to Captain Janeway. This is because the Tri-World Federation was formed to stop an overpopulated and expansionist Earth from overwhelming the native inhabitants of Venus and Mars due to their technological supremacy and what seems like new and exciting ways to the native inhabitants of those worlds. In a reference to "Prime Factors", the crew eventually get hold of FTL technology by bribing someone with Voyager's library to let them steal the parts, but as they're Space Pirates who routinely steal alien technology for the Caretaker, Janeway is not bothered.
  • In Surrogate of Zero, it's first defied when Asuka tells Shinji to ask Louise for details about Halkeginian magic, and then discussed later in dialogue between Asuka and Shinji, and Asuka and Rei.
  • "Destiny and Voyager Crossroads" opens with Voyager finding a wormhole that takes them to another galaxy in another universe where they swiftly make contact with Destiny. Having established that they are in an alternate universe, the Voyager crew swiftly conclude that neither the Prime Directive or the Temporal Prime Directive apply as the humans of this universe possess faster-than-light travel and their world is already very different from the history they are familiar with. In the course of their time together, the two crews not only make plans to help each other get back to Earth, but even agree to an exchange of technology that leads to Starfleet acquiring a series of spare Stargates from barren worlds while Destiny is given a complete overhaul and repair job at Earth's main spacedock.
  • The Infinity Crisis spin-off fics feature a cross-dimensional version of this; even after other heroes become aware of the multiverse beyond the residents of the Arrowverse, at least one hero states that they can’t travel across alternate universes to stop in whenever they feel they should ‘help’ because that creates the risk of them coming to feel entitled to impose their own views on other worlds. For the most part, every time a hero crosses over to another universe in subsequent fics, they are either pursuing one of their villains who has already done so or have been alerted to the presence of their villain in that world by local allies; the only exception is in chapter 7 of Counterpart Conferences, when the Batman of the DC Animated Universe travels to Earth-99 to deal with his local counterpart, who has begun to kill even his allies because of what they might do in future.
  • Deconstructed in Kings of Revolution. The TSAB's non-interference policy prevent them from conducting any deep investigation over the Earth's activities. LOGOS takes advantage of this in order to set up bases. More importantly, it keeps the heroines of Lyrical Nanoha from helping their countrymen suffering from the brutal treatment of foreign occupiers and are prompted to arrest those who do try to help. That draws additional ire from their former friends, with one pulling a Face–Heel Turn.
  • Averted in The Last Daughter, where Jor-El sends his daughter to Earth-Bet with the explicit intention of saving the planet from Scion. It's played with in the rewrite. There's no legal clause preventing Taylor from handing out Kryptonian technology, but she has her moral hang-ups (making humanity too dependent on her, weaponization, etc). That being said, however, she's willing to still use Krypton's knowledge to better society.
  • Features in the Star Wars/Star Trek crossover series "Stars Ablaze Episode 1- Destinies Entwined", after R2-D2 receives a mass download of knowledge from V'Ger. Having relocated to the Federation for his own "safety" (as his home galaxy would consider him basically property where the Federation accept him as an equal), R2 freely offers the Federation help in amending their warp drives to avoid damaging the fabric of the universe and even gives them assistance in developing their own hyperdrives. However, while he is willing to offer some advice about the dangers of exploring the Gamma Quadrant based on V'Ger's observations when the Enterprise travels there via prototype hyperdrive, he makes it clear that he won't share everything V'Ger gave him about other galaxies, providing Starfleet Command access to that data only in a heavily encrypted format that they will have to unlock gradually and thus prove they've earned the right to use it.
  • A Voice in the Wilderness: The "Prime Directive" gets turned on its head here when Eleya uses it as her official reason for not retaliating against the Romulan overthrow of the Kobali government.
  • Defied in Worm crossover Echoes of Yesterday. Although she endeavours to not aggravate the situation in Earth-Bet by acting impulsively, Kara couldn't forgive herself if she didn't try to help the Crapsack World she has been dragged into.
  • In ∞:∞, the main characters try to keep the Prime Directive up, especially in the 'Old Worlds'. Emphasis on try. The only places where they don't even attempt to do so are worlds like Shibuya, where the inhabitants already know about other worlds.

    Films — Animation 
  • Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe: Discussed by Major Monogram when he calls Perry while he is on Feebla-Oot, to tell him about an intergalactic treaty. He lists off things Perry should not do while he is fighting three alien guards. Though he was on a rescue mission and the aliens he was fighting weren't very friendly.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Hard to Be a God is a whole movie dedicated to the dilemma of a human observer on a "primitive" alien planet with one interesting twist: the main reason for his superiors to send him there was to "observe the observer" — see if he would be able to avoid getting involved. (In fact, since 2008, there are two movies.)
  • In K-PAX, prot[sic], the mental patient/possible extraterrestrial refuses to elaborate on the mechanics of light-beam travel, as at our relatively primitive stage of civilization, he's concerned humans would end up using it as an apocalyptic weapon.
    prot: You'd be surprised how much energy there is... in a beam of light.
  • In Star Trek Into Darkness the Prime Directive, the set of rules stating Starfleet personnel avoid interfering with less developed alien cultures, is discussed during the opening away mission, in which a less-developed alien culture is saved from a volcanic eruption because Kirk, Spock, and McCoy violate it to save the species, in the process revealing the existence of the Enterprise to them. Kirk is stripped of his captaincy and demoted, but it's implied that although Kirk violated the directive, he is punished because he lied about not violating it rather than the violation itself.
  • The plot of Star Trek: Insurrection is entirely based around a loophole to this rule: the Baku were never supposed to be immortal since they emigrated to the planet causing this immortality which is owned by the Federation, therefore the Federation can do as they please to the Baku. Captain Picard, who has been a massive stickler for the rules, doesn't buy this for a second and he and the crew of the Enterprise fight to save the Baku.
  • Superman: The Movie: Jor-El warns Kal-El it's forbidden to interfere with human history. That becomes a Plot Point later in the film.
  • Cloud Atlas: Meronym in the final segment is from a more advanced Earth civilization, not an alien, but this still applies to her. Zachry manages to convince her to use her medical equipment to save Zachry's sister. To avoid potential problems, they inject her secretly, so she just appears to have a miraculous recovery; subverting the trope.
  • Every thousand years, Ming The Merciless from Flash Gordon tests every inhabited planet in the universe by causing natural disasters and eclipses. If the inhabitants realize an alien is causing these, he destroys the planet. If not, he'll leave them alone for another thousand years.
  • Eternals: The Eternals have watched over humanity for millennia, but for the most part have not interfered in their development until the present. As mandated by the Celestials, they cannot interfere unless the Deviants are involved, which is why, among other things, they did nothing to attempt to stop Thanos from eradicating half of life on Earth. Though they did influence mankind along the way, helping the development of myths and technology. Druig also breaks this vow when he mind controls everyone in Tenochtitlan to stop the humans from killing each other.

    Gamebooks 
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • The universe of Literature/2001ASpaceOdyssey and its sequels is built around this trope both played straight and inverted. The Originators of the monolith in 2001 were driven by the desire to accelerate the development of sentient life, because they found it so rare. "They became farmers in the fields of stars. They sowed, and sometimes they reaped. And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed." They will kick-start promising species along the road to intelligence (the most impactful intervention possible), but in order to meet them, a civilization must first master space travel on its own (strictly hands off). However, it's strongly implied that not all species meet that goal, and some which do meet it follow lines of evolution so distasteful or dangerous that they have to be exterminated - while the actions taken to accelerate some species are shown to directly result in the annihilation of others.
  • Star Maker, a 1937 novel by Olaf Stapledon (who inspired many of the "golden age" sci-fi writers) has the Symbiont race, Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who keep their existence hidden from "pre-utopian", pre-spacefaring races, revealing themselves only after a race achieves both of those so the fledgling races don't lose their "independence of mind" (pretty similar to the Vulcans that came after).
  • Speaker for the Dead takes place millennia after the events in Ender's Game, in which an entire sentient species was exterminated simply because they couldn't communicate with humans. In the intervening time, the Starways Congress has enacted rules to prevent any other sentient species discovered from immediately becoming enemies of humanity. Speaker mostly takes place on Lusitania, where the first alien species since the Buggers have been discovered. The pequeninos ("piggies") are initially viewed as inferior, due to their lack of technological milestones such as electricity and metalworking. When the humans discover the piggies are aware of spaceships, and wish to become space explorers themselves, there is considerable commotion among the xenologists. The public controversy draws out the dark side ("Human superiority first!") of the trope, and Children of the Mind begins with the Starway Congress fleet on their way to destroy the entire frigging planet, with this as a partial reason. The pequeninos' attempts at jumping a few branches up the Technology Tree is eventually described—by a human, no less—as a sentient species (the piggies) exercising their rights as a sentient species to engage in trade and commerce with visiting extra-terrestrials (humans) for the betterment of piggy-kind.
  • Animorphs:
    • "The Law of Seerow's Kindness", a law passed by the Andalites forbidding them to share technology with less developed species. It was named after Prince Seerow, who passed technology onto the Puppeteer Parasite Yeerks, unintentionally allowing them to become the Big Bad species of the series. The justification for this law is it protects primitive races from other primitive races by denying them the means to wage galactic war, but it dooms the Hork-Bajir and would have doomed humanity (and many other races) if Elfangor hadn’t broken it. As the series goes on that justification sounds increasingly hollow as the Andalites desperately try to cling onto their technological advantage, and show just how willing they are to sacrifice their allies to save themselves.
    • The Ellimist and Crayak also have rules about when they can and can't interact with other species, but for a different reason: the Ellimist wants to spread life and freedom, Crayak wants to spread genocide, and any open conflict between them would literally destroy both of them and everything else in the universe. Essentially, they're in a Cold War-style standoff, which is why they each either have to agree to let the other work openly (allowing them to demand concessions) or else act subtly enough to keep the other from knowing.
    • Prior to the fear of mutually-assured destruction necessitating their game rules, Ellimist was fairly active in trying to stop conflicts and improve circumstances across the galaxy. When he first meets Crayak he learns, to his horror, that his first effort at this accidentally led to a species learning how to wipe out a neighboring one (though Crayak assures him that most of his other efforts were more successful - he just went in afterwords and undid all of Ellimist's work).
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • By the time of the trilogy, the Valar could be said to have taken up a style of this similar to the Ellimist and Crayak: they tried to fight Morgoth directly, and the results were not pretty for Arda. They (and the related Maiar) are not exactly hiding, though; there are plenty of people in Middle-Earth (Galadriel, for example) who have personally met the Valar, Gandalf is a Maia, and Elrond is descended from one.
    • The Istari, meanwhile, are Maiar wizards sent to Middle-Earth to oppose Sauron. Nonetheless, they have a looser version of this trope in effect, in that they are forbidden from opposing Sauron by meeting power with power; their job is to organize and inspire the people of Middle-Earth against Sauron, not to fight the war for them. Hence, Gandalf doesn't use magic to solve the plot on his own because it's not his role, and the one Wizard who actually breaks this rule has already fallen to evil and allied with Sauron.
  • Elizabeth Moon's Remnant Population has "The People", Starfish Aliens who until events in the book, unwittingly share their planet with human colonists. After some humans try to land new colony ships on their nests (and get killed for it), they seek out and find Ofelia, the willing last human of a failed colony hundreds of miles away, who kept the colony's tech running for her own use. Unaware of the non-interference rule (which exists even though humans have never met another intelligent species, as they made many assumptions about what aliens will be like), Ofelia has to show and explain things like electricity to The People, initially so their curiosity doesn't kill them with a high voltage current. But it turns out The People are extremely intelligent and hungry for knowledge, to the surprise of all and the chagrin of the human officials and scientists who get sent to "undo the damage" (some with good but misinformed intentions and some crossing the line into "keeping the humans in charge").
  • Much of the Strugatsky Brothers' Noon Universe novels revolve around various aspects of this and its plausibility:
    • Hard to Be a God investigates how would a human observer fare on a planet stuck in The Dung Ages, while allowed limited intervention at best (for example, he may save a promising scientist deemed heretical by the Inquisition but has no authority to stop the planet from sliding into even further barbarism after a corrupt church gains power).
    • Prisoners of Power revolves around a civilian protagonist inadvertently crashing on a Diesel Punk world rife with pointless nuclear warfare. He single-handedly forms a plan to overthrow the government and their means of Mind Control... and coincidentally ruins the plan of undercover Earth operatives to solve the planet's issues in a far safer and more gradual way which, however, is implied to take decades if not centuries.
  • Amy Thomson's The Color of Distance and Through Alien Eyes have humanity making first contact with a technologically primitive society of froglike aliens called the Tendu. They have little technology, but they do have impressive medical abilities; they can physically modify creatures, including themselves and humans, and heal just about anything. Humanity has to make reparations for burning down an important chunk of rainforest before they knew the Tendu were there, but they can't violate the protocols in doing so, to the Tendu's frustration; they know what humans have and are fascinated by it. When one of the Tendu decides to come to Earth, he responds to some of the doubts by saying that he, too, will abide by the protocols, and not teach humanity anything that it's not ready for. Humanity has such strict protocols in the first place because the first sapient species they discovered reacted to first contact by essentially committing mass suicide, for completely unknown reasons. Hence, the understandable caution about assuming anything about alien cultures and mentalities.
  • Also in Darkover by Marion Zimmer Bradley: the humans have a directive never to interfere in the business of aliens, not even if the conflict seems as meaningless as the question how to open an egg. One really wonders who makes such stupid decisions.
  • In C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the planetary spirits are forbidden to intervene in Earth's affairs. Unfortunately for the bad guys, they are not forbidden to respond if Earth intervenes in theirs.
  • In Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, first contact teams are often sent to rather primitive planets, and many such civilizations are incorporated in the interstellar civilization — since it believes that even non-technological races have a lot to contribute (arts or philosophy). However, there is an embargo on teaching technology without authorization by the government. Planet of Exile demonstrates the point when a human is wounded by an enemy dart, and must be careful, since while the natives use no poisons, the Earth Lost Colony does, and the used darts are sometimes fired back.
  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Uhura's Song, Kirk gets an order directly from the Federation President and the Commander of Starfleet. To emphasize (to both the readers and the characters) the severity of the situation (a plague that is threatening to cause the collapse of the Federation and kill a large portion of the population of multiple species), the President makes the following statement: "The Federation Council has agreed to waive the non-interference directive." That almost-casual statement is the President telling Kirk that the PRIME DIRECTIVE IS OFF THE TABLE.
  • Enchantress from the Stars talks quite a bit about the implications of this trope. Short version: it's worth it in the very, very long run, but damn does it suck in the short run.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's Trevellyan's Mission series, humanity and many other starfaring races specifically invert this trope, believing themselves to be duty-bound to help guide younger races, although they go to great lengths to avoid revealing themselves. The series goes into great detail as to the criteria for choosing which humanoid species to "progress", as attempts to help an alien species at the wrong stage of development ultimately made things worse for them. Some are hinted to have resulted in extinctions. As such, only pre-Renaissance races are interfered with. On one occasion, the human scientists and their Kni'lina counterparts are debating which of two Stone Age species which evolved on one world to eliminate. The first novel specifically deals with the protagonist attempting to figure out why a world is stuck in Medieval Stasis and why humanity's attempts at making changes utterly fail. It turns out the cause is a previously-unknown advanced alien race who follows a strict policy of non-interference except to stop a major threat against the very survival of the younger races. These "Paraprims" are Technical Pacifists who have descended from primates but are not humanoids (they're more like chimps and still have fur).
  • Usually averted in David Brin's Uplift series. "Pre-sentient" species are nearly always uplifted by the time they reach a stone age level of technology at the latest. However the Institute of Migration often designates planets or even entire regions of space to "lie fallow" for several million years so their ecosystems can recover before allowing re-colonization. Earth was in the middle of a cluster of fallow systems that had been devastated in a war and was overlooked (except perhaps by our mysterious Neglectful Precursors, but we'll never know if they existed).
  • Iain Banks' The Culture:
    • The novels are basically a reaction against the silliness of the Prime Directive. The Culture, especially its exploratory organisation Contact, see it as their moral duty to make other civilizations (usually those less advanced) more like the Culture (and by implication, statistically better and happier). It usually takes the form of making sure the right rulers stay alive long enough to make their world a better place; whether through alien medicine or impossibly proficient bodyguards and armies. There are factions within the Culture who feel that this practice is wrong, resulting in diaspora like the Peace Faction (who believe in pacifistic non-interaction) and the Elench (who believe that they should be the ones changed by alien planets, not the other way round). And this doesn't even count the actions of Contact's darker cousin, Special Circumstances.
    • Downplayed regarding "over-runging": civilizations are classified according to Technology Levels and galactic treaties prohibit technology exchange between civilizations more than one level apart.
  • Elizabeth Bear's novel Undertow has an inversion: If a planet is inhabited, humans can only colonize it if the natives are pre-space. As you might expect, this sometimes results in a situation similar to what happened in most European colonies. But that's not even the best part. The book's major twist is that the natives of the world the book takes place on voluntarily gave up space travel and reverted to a pre-technological state. Which according to a literal interpretation of the Alien Non-Interference Clause, means the current colony is illegal.
  • Patricia A. McKillip wrote a duology (Moon Flash and The Moon And The Face) that discusses this with two dissimilar cultures on one planet.
  • Gregory Mc Donald wrote Fletch Too about visiting Africa and the discussion arose that concerned the rightness of Africa being put under a glass shield to protect them from technology/interference/etc.
  • Jack McDevitt's short story "Kaminsky at War" (set in the Priscilla Hutchins universe) explores the morality of such a rule, from the perspective of a researcher observing a planet locked in an endless and pointless war.
  • The very first Honor Harrington novel involves the technologically-primitive Medusans, who the Manticorans try to keep semi-isolated from modern tech (traders can sell steel tools but nothing powered, for instance), assisted by the fact the planet really doesn't have anything anyone wants (Apart from its location on a major trade/possible invasion route). When the Peeps provide advanced breechloading rifled muskets to assorted nomadic tribes, carefully designed so that they could be replicated with existing Medusan technology, the Manticoran governor sadly accepts the Manticorans will probably have to provide similar weapons to the more civilized (and friendly) Medusan city-states so they can defend themselves.
  • In the back story of the Foreigner (1994) series, the Pilots' Guild (the leaders of the thoroughly lost Phoenix starship) want all the humans to stay in orbit in their Space Station rather than land on the life-bearing planet below so as to not contaminate the culture of the indigenous sapient species. Or at least they claim that's their reason for not wanting anyone to go down to the planet. The humans who eventually do land on the planet think that the Guild doesn't give a crap about the indigenous population, and that their Alien Non-Interference Clause is merely a pretext to keep all humans in the system under their control. It turns out that they were both wrong and right. The Guild did have some genuine concern about humans contaminating the indigenous culture, but that was nonetheless a pretext for their greater concern: that aliens would contaminate human culture. The protagonist of the story, a descendant of the humans who landed on the planet, has as his main job to turn over human tech to the alien natives - but only at a rate which won't disrupt their culture or society, and he specifically has veto powers to make sure of it.
  • In L. Sprague de Camp's Viagens Interplanetarias stories, the Terrans are specifically forbidden from importing technology to the warlike inhabitants of the planet Krishna. Enforcement of the rule is done by electronic brainwashing so that even if the natives capture and torture a visitor, they are unable to reveal anything. Note that clever ways to evade this rule drive the plots of several stories.
  • The Empire of Man in Jerry Pournelle's "CoDominium" future (also used in The Mote in God's Eye) uses both an inversion and a subversion of this rule. Low-tech planets are routinely taken over and ruled as colonies, but spacefaring societies are allowed to join the Empire as member worlds with much more control over their own affairs. Note that (with one exception) all the planets are lost human colonies in the first place. In the novel King David's Spaceship some primitive but far from stupid people from a world with Victorian level technology go to desperate lengths to develop space travel to avoid being colonized, only to run into the subversion: There actually are laws against supplying "disruptive" technologies to colony worlds. So there actually is a non-interference clause but it's only applied in ways that benefit the powers that be. They actually manage to build a Victorian technology spaceship (which they freely admit would be suicidal if there hadn't been an Imperial Battle Cruiser in orbit) only to be sanctioned as a member world for providing Renaissance level technology to an even more primitive society.
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, all worlds that are Psychocrat experiments are sealed, on the grounds that the trauma of the truth might be too great. When Roane finds the conditioning still in action, her uncle points out that removing it could have horrible effects on its subjects.
  • In David Drake's Ranks of Bronze The Federation prohibits the use of advanced weaponry on primitive planets, ostensibly for the primitive's sake but really to prevent them from getting ideas and becoming a threat. In addition, other forms of contact such as trade in raw materials, or slaves, are allowed with primitives. Trade Guilds can even strong-arm primitives into accepting trade deals so long as they stick to muscle-powered weapons, which is why one Guild buys a Roman Legion from Carrhae.
  • Averted in the Eldraeverse. There's actually a "Speculativism Index" for rough estimates of how easy it would be to sell uncontacted planets advanced technology based on their science-fiction.
  • Sixth of the Dusk: The Ones Above are spacefaring humans who are not allowed to interfere with the primitive humans of Dusk's world, not even to trade some of their technology. It's compared to adults refusing to trade with children; no matter how clever the child is, it's still exploitative. However, because they really want the magical Aviar found on the planet, they exploit a loophole: they "accidentally" leave behind some of their technology where the primitives can find it, in the hopes that they will advance too quickly, and the Ones Above will be able to legally trade with them before they're actually ready.
  • The Enlightened League, in Year Zero is made up of all alien species that survived long enough to achieve warp travel and similar technological milestones, and they have this rule. It's strict self-preservation: most species that fail to join the league do so because they've obliterated themselves in nuclear war or similar disasters, and giving such primitive species high-tech weapons is highly illegal for reasons of safety.
  • In the short novel The Librarian (2015) the aliens become the target species from birth in order to learn how they live, to the point that not even the aliens themselves know they're not the native species until they die. This prevents any kind of outside interference or prejudices to murk the experience.
  • The dragons of Dragonvarld, although not technically aliens, have laws which play out much like this, preventing them from having much to do with humanity. A breach of these laws before the start of the books — specifically, the conquest of a human kingdom by a dragon — sets up the main plot.
  • In the Sector General series The Federation does practice a form of this trope under normal circumstances, but involving the eponymous space hospital is shorthand for "screw it".
  • In the interstellar society of Samuel R. Delany's Empire Star, there's a more complicated and limited version about the distribution of technology. If a culture is "simplex", you may import higher-tech stuff into it, because the culture won't have the imagination to do anything much with it anyway. If it's "complex", you can't bring in higher-tech stuff because it could create a social upheaval. Simplex and complex aren't themselves concepts indicating technological advancement as such, more like the narrowness or breadth of the culture's thinking.
  • Guardians of the Flame: Utterly averted-at least in the first four books, none of the main band even stops to think if it's ethically or morally justified to introduce huge changes into the sociopolitical culture of another worldnote . For example by them introducing guns, which triggers an arms race and trying to end slavery by violent attacks on slaver caravans rather than waiting to see if it comes about naturally as society evolves past the need for or permitting slavery. Not to mention setting up their own kingdom, forever changing the geopolitical makeup of the world. Possibly justified by the fact that Arthur Deighton/Arta Myrdhyn had already seriously interfered (including fighting a massive magical duel that laid waste to an entire valley) though it's not made clear whether he's an earth or local native.
  • In Christopher Anvil's story The Royal Road, the spacefaring human civilisation has rules against interfering with less developed civilisations. Or rather, against overtly interfering; bribery and coercion are out, but the Planetary Development Authority are prepared to turn a blind eye to more subtle forms of influence.
  • Isaac Asimov:
  • Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch: The "Rise of the Federation" novels explore the concept from all sides, both for, against, and on the receiving end. The actual directive itself doesn't exist during the novels yet, but as it goes on Archer starts thinking it should be a good idea.
    • For is shown when the Federation's zealous efforts against the Ware, done with good intentions often leads to disaster and in at least one case thousands upon thousands of accidental deaths, because the officers didn't stop to consider the consequences getting rid of the Ware would have on civilisations dependent on it just to have civilisation at all (Ware = bad, getting rid of = good, anyone saying otherwise = too addicted to realize they're wrong).
    • Against is mainly done with Shran, and the argument that sometimes it's necessary to intervene to prevent further suffering. He's also wary of the notion that the idea will one day lead to Starfleet refusing to help prevent perfectly preventable disasters or extinction events out of some vague notion that it's "destiny". Archer states no-one would be that callous. note 
    • The receiving end is shown with an alien who is pissed after several days working with Travis to realize he actually is an alien, and has been flat-out lying to her face when she and her partner tried to get him to admit the truth, finding his attitude that they Were Not Ready massively condescending... but her people, who haven't even developed the concept of aliens yet, have a collective, violent freak-out when they learn the truth of the Ware, causing her to acknowledge that maybe Travis wasn't entirely wrong.
  • Crosstime Traffic: The rules of travel to parallel timelines strictly forbid revealing the existence of the "Prime" timeline (i.e. the one that invented crosstime travel) or introducing technology too advanced for anyone on that world to have invented (they sell goods that are just better than anything the locals can make to keep their economic edge).
    • Subverted in The Gladiator, where the prime-timeliners are trying to introduce democratic and capitalist ideas into a world where the Soviets won the Cold War, and any actual trading is incidental.
    • HEAVILY subverted in In High Places, where a group of rogue prime-timeliners purchase slaves in a Crapsack World where the Black Death was worse, and then take them to another timeline where they play at being conquistadors and slave owners. The discovery of this by the Crosstime Traffic company and the government is a huge scandal.
    • In The Valley-Westside War, Dan (a local from a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles) calls them out on this when he finds out what's going on — the Crosstime Traffic people have the tech and know-how to help rebuild society there, but all they're interested in is research to find out what exactly went wrong in that timeline to cause a nuclear war.
  • In the Bounders series, the Youli, the dominant species in the galaxy, try to prevent any species from interfering with a planet that hasn't developed space travel yet. Their war with Earth began when Earth Force made First Contact with Gulaga, and treated the locals in a very unethical manner.
  • In The Pillars of Reality, Earth enforces these rules on their distant extra-solar colonies whether they want it or not. This routinely gets exploited by Earth-based corporations to cheat the colonies, as giving them fair value for their wares would involve allowing the colonies to have restricted items. Earth even gets pissy about unauthorized tech releases when Dematr asks them for instructions on how to safely destroy a WMD left behind by the first-generation colonists, even though they don't want any technical information on its principles of operation or how to build more, just a list of steps on how to scrap the thing without blowing themselves up.
  • E.E "Doc" Smith's Lensman series goes back and forth on this.
    • The Arisians are subtly building human civilizations up as fast as Eddore can knock them down, but they have to be circumspect about how they do it while the Eddorians are not so bound - so catastrophes like the Fall of Rome, the destruction of Atlantis and World War 3 must regrettably be allowed to happen. Eventually it reaches a point where the Arisians can engage the Eddorians openly and lock them out of direct intervention.
    • The Arisians will not aid any Lensman (Kim Kinnison in particular) with anything he could handle himself. Kinnison later realizes that they WILL help him with things he has to get done which are absolutely beyond his capabilities (which in some cases includes magnifying those capabilities so he can do it himself).
    • Averted with the Patrol's first contact with planet Bennett. The Bennettans are industrialized but not spacefarers, and their planet's role is to become the Patrol's navy yards, giving them a direct jump from the early 1950s straight to FTL space travel.
    • Averted again with Klovia, which has just fought a world war so devastating that it destroyed their civilization without nuclear weapons being used. Klovia is at a stage where both space travel and nuclear power are only theoretical constructs, but it becomes a latter-day version of Bennett as Civilization's first permanent toe-hold in the Second Galaxy, with the Patrol helping both to rebuild and to ensure all sides that nobody would get an unfair advantage.
    • Played straight in Masters of the Vortex, in which Neal Cloud accuses his crew of revealing certain weapons to a planet not cleared to know about them yet. His crew defend themselves by saying that such weapons have been seen here before, and since they weren't physically given over, no actual technology transfer occurred. It's an inconsistent claim on Cloud's part, as he had already lent the exact same weapons to the Dhilians, to whom they were something new and impressive.
    • And speaking of the Dhilians... having helped them against the biologically identical Nhalians, Cloud calls for a Patrol taskforce to intervene in the war between the two nations. Fortunately this goes well, with both sides taking comfort from the fact that their former enemies will not be permitted to screw them over again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Observer Chronicoms normally have one of these, but there's an exception for preventing an extinction-level event. Hence, Enoch sends the team through time so that they can stop the Earth from blowing up.
  • In Babylon 5, it's noted explicitly that most races do not have a formal rule about such things. Indeed, this is how first contact happened on Earth — the Centauri buzzed them and shared their hyperspace jump technology.note  But even then, there are certain diplomatic or pragmatic reasons to apply such a rule in certain cases:
    • One underlying trend with respect to hyperspace travel is that none of the races now around developed it by themselves. They either copied it from the technology of the First Ones, or they bought it from someone who did. Indeed, the Expanded Universe suggests that no race could develop it even if they wanted to, because almost no systems with habitable planets contain the Unobtanium needed to make it happen. Therefore, the common justification of a non-interference policy that each world has to have the chance to develop space travel on its own pace is moot, since no world can do so.
    • Different groups may choose to contact or not contact other races for the purpose of shifting the balance of power. The Earth Alliance, for instance, fought an entire war against the Dilgar so that the less advanced members of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds could have a level playing field. In one episode, the Earth government sends soldiers to violently suppress a rebellion in another world, just because it was in a key strategic location. The sense seems to be that there's more to gain from protecting yourself than there is to lose by contacting other worlds too early.
    • The station itself has a rule that aliens onboard cannot be prosecuted for things that wouldn't be illegal under their own laws, as long as they did it within their own species. It's shown in "Believers", in which the parents who ritually kill their son aren't brought up on criminal charges (they would have been if they had done it to a human child), and in "The Geometry of Shadows", in which the Drazi who kill each other in the Green-Purple conflict aren't charged with murder, but the few who injure Commander Ivanova are thrown into the brig.
    • In In the Beginning, Londo mentions that the Centauri have a narrower policy of not selling advanced weapons systems to "developing worlds". It still doesn't prevent their enemies, the Narns, from selling pirated Centauri weapons tech to Earth at a sizeable profit.
    • In "Deathwalker", a captured Dilgar scientist and war criminal bargains for her freedom with a breakthrough immortality serum, but the Vorlons kill her before it can be mass-produced. Ambassador Kosh tells an assembled audience, "You are not ready for immortality." And it turned out the serum was a trap, because it requires the murder of a sentient being and the scientist was hoping to use each race's Immortality Seeker tendencies to get them to commit atrocities on each other in competition for it, as a combination of revenge and a monument to her Mengele-esque work.
    • In "A Voice in the Wilderness, Part II", Epsilon III was declared off-limits to all because it had a "great machine" — a supercomputer with capabilities up to and including Time Travel. The fear was that any race who got to it first would have an unfair advantage (although it had explicitly been intended to be saved for the Shadow War). This included the outcast extremist members of the race who built it.
    • 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.
    • One episode featured a minor race who wholeheartedly embraced the idea of non-interference — because they were real big on classism and segregation. Their idea was that it was wrong to allow less advanced, "inferior" races to even have the opportunity to survive their natural failings. Everyone they met reacted with abject horror at their shallowness. They were quite impressed with human slums (to human consternation), wondering why they hadn't implemented that kind of segregation on their own planet.
    • The Interstellar Alliance does have rules about not monkeying about with the cultural and internal affairs of its members. But it also requires all members to sign a Declaration of Principles, essentially guaranteeing that all of its members will have roughly similar moral and ethical values anyway, and that those values are relatively tolerant — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to pursue happiness. G'Kar, who wrote the Declaration, is quite proud of it and has a speech that basically synthesizes it.
    • The spin-off series Crusade tends to be more cavalier with non-interference. At the end of "Visitors from Down the Street", Captain Matthew Gideon sprays a pre-hyperspace planet with modified probes uploaded with the complete current copy of the Galactic Encyclopedia. Turns out that the government there did get Earth broadcasts, but was using them to control civil unrest — they would systematically plant tidbits of evidence of hidden alien invaders on their planet (namely humans), send in The Men in Black to suppress it, and create a subculture of Conspiracy Theorists who would be too distracted with "alien" stuff to deal with the real problems. Gideon did this to expose the government and the real conspiracy, out of concern that if they did eventually discover spaceflight and the people were still under the impression that Earth had been manipulating them, they'd be a headache to deal with. It's no surprise that this particular episode was awash in Shout Outs to The X-Files, with alien equivalents of Mulder, Scully and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Amusingly the latter was under the impression they were bound by such a rule and was actively taunting them about it when he explained the truth.
    • The RPG explains that Earth Alliance has in fact a mild version of this, implemented after contacting a Bronze Age world caused near-complete societal collapse and forced the humans to all but annex the place to stop the genocidal wars they had unwittingly caused. The exact limits are unknown, but EA is now much more careful in contacting less advanced societies.
    • The Vorlon are also extremely careful about what they share with less advanced societies, a result of past experience: they had once interfered with early Minbari society and uplifted them to the stars in the guise of gods and then, once they deemed them ready admitted they weren't, resulting in the Minbari going into cultural shock, murdering all Vorlon on their homeworld, and getting literally bombed back into stone age when the Vorlon in orbit panicked. Since then the Vorlon are careful with what they share and refuse to openly pose as gods (though they have no problem letting the Younger Races think they helped them in the past while doing so, as it makes them more willing to take their side) - and refuse to make any direct contact with the Orieni, who do in fact worship them as the "Living Gods" in spite of how many times they had the Minbari and other intermediaries telling them the Vorlon are merely more technologically advanced aliens.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Time Lords have an official policy of neutrality and non-interference, acting only as observers except in cases of great injustice. They didn't always, though — they only adopted it after they gave advanced technology to the Minyans, who then destroyed themselves in a series of nuclear wars. Even after they adopted non-interference, they didn't always stick to it; the Doctor seems to have never really adopted it to begin with. They also maintain a whole covert ops organization, variously called the Celestial Intervention Agency (the CIA) or "The Division".
    • The Doctor, while a notorious meddler, generally sticks to "stop the Monster of the Week, then hop back in the TARDIS." While he loves Earth, he's not keen on giving it particle guns. Sometimes, though, he has to make a tougher decision:
      • In "Aliens of London", the Doctor refuses to interfere in First Contact because he believes it's something humans have to do on their own. Then he realizes that the aliens who made contact are a threat, and he decides to intervene as usual. In "The Empty Child", Captain Jack Harkness calls the Doctor out for his reluctance to interfere, suggesting that he should have been able to tell they were up to no good.
      • In "The Christmas Invasion", after triumphantly saving Earth yet again, the fleeing alien ship is destroyed by an orbital defence weapon Earth has developed from scavenged alien tech. The Doctor is furious, but the Prime Minister reminds him that the Earth is constantly under alien threat and has relied on him for too long, especially given that his appearances are spontaneous and impossible to predict, and that he refuses to interfere with Earth's development by giving them the means to defend themselves. The message doesn't stick; the Doctor vindictively brings down her government in response, just to show that he can.
      • In "The Fires of Pompeii", the Doctor ends up in the Italian city just before the big boom, and obviously is compelled to save the inhabitants. However, Vesuvius' eruption is, for Timey-Wimey Ball reasons known only to the Doctor, a 'fixed event' which cannot be tampered with without major damage to the space-time continuum. Even after learning about alien involvement in the eruption, he cannot interfere to prevent it.
      • In "The Beast Below", the Eleventh Doctor plays his inconsistent approach to this for laughs. He explains his non-interference policy to Amy, 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.
      Amy: So this is how it works, Doctor? You never interfere in the affairs of other peoples or planets, unless there's children crying?
      The Doctor: Yes.
    • In "The Ribos Operation", it's mentioned that in this particular region of space/time, there are rules about how much interaction with extra-system life a planet can receive based on its tech level. Ribos is Class 3, and not expected to reach Class 2 for a few centuries, so it's pretty much illegal for a non-Ribosian (pretty much the whole cast of the episode) to be on the planet at all. Some cast members think that the Doctor is an enforcer sent to bust them for it.
  • JAG: Referenced in the season 8 episode "In Country", where Bud bonds with a suspected terrorist by discussing the merits of Star Trek's Prime Directive (it turns out they're both fans). He uses this to obtain useful information, succeeding where an asshole torturer CIA officer didn't.
  • In My Favorite Martian, Martin speaks several times about how he admires the achievements of humanity — the discovery of gravity and electricity, the space program — and has witnessed many of them, but has never stepped in to do it for them. Notably, the show first aired in 1963, three years before Trope Codifier Star Trek premiered.
  • The Orville, being an homage to Star Trek, has something similar in use by the Planetary Union. It's against the rules to interfere with pre-space cultures. However, as soon as a culture sends out a signal deliberately seeking out alien intelligence or builds its first spaceship, then the Union initiates First Contact protocol. Similar to Star Trek, the Union still sends in scientists to study primitive local cultures covertly. And similar to Star Trek, there are a few edge cases the crew has to deal with:
    • In "Mad Idolatry", Kelly violates the non-interference rule to cure a sick child which leads her to being deified by a primitive culture. They keep worshipping her for millennia, with all manner of religious wars in the process.
    • In "All the World's a Birthday Cake", it's explained that when a culture reaches the stars, the Union steps in as quickly as possible, to prevent less scrupulous races from taking advantage of the newly spacebound world. However, in this instance, the first contact goes horribly wrong when Kelly and Bortus are arrested for sharing a birthday that week — turns out the locals have some serious astrological beliefs. Ed openly states that he could easily invade the planet and get his officers back, but also notes that it's the worst move he can make; he spends weeks working through diplomatic channels and engaging in a little chicanery to get them back, and Ed makes it clear to the Union that this race isn't ready to join them until they let go of their superstitions.
    • In the Season 3 finale, Lysella, who hails from a planet much like early 21st century Earth, wants to share the Union technology with her world, arguing it's what's needed to heal their divisions and help people. Kelly shows her a hologram of Grendel III, a world not unlike Lysella's own that the first Union explorers found in 2235. They shared their technology, thinking it would help the world...and instead, it was hoarded by the rich and powerful, sparking wars. Kelly advances the hologram to show that in just five years, a world of 9 billion people was turned into a lifeless wasteland. This forced the Union to institute its laws to avoid another disaster.
  • 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. While 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 to their civilization 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 they make numerous exceptions for the Tau'ri — over the course of the series, they have proven themselves both trusted allies and responsible enough to use the technology wisely. To the point that when the Asgard's Clone Degeneration became irreversible and they chose to commit ritual suicide, Thor convinced the Asgard to bequeath the Tau'ri all of their technology.
    • The Ori and the Goa'uld flaunt their tech and meddle all the time, posing as gods to less advanced civilizations.
    • The Goa'uld and the Asgard have a special non-interference treaty — neither will interfere with certain human worlds, including prevention of natural disasters, and they won't share their tech, but they can still pose as gods to the extent necessary to help the primitive cultures understand their situation. Earth is part of it, but they wormed their way out of the tech restriction. In one episode, Stargate Command discovers an asteroid on a collision course for Earth and asks the Asgard for help, but the Asgard refuse citing the treaty, and the Earth had to save itself.note 
    • The Ancients, who long ago ascended to a higher plane of existence, have a strict non-interference clause with corporeal beings. This means they won't help out with the supertech they left behind, nor will they intervene to protect anyone from half-ascended Evil Overlords who might have ambitions of razing an entire planet. They only step in to prevent other Ascended beings, like the Ori, from laying waste to the galaxy. Daniel only allowed himself to be ascended to the Ancients' level because he thought he could do more good among them, and there's a reason he's human again. They're pretty much the definition of Neglectful Precursors. The writers basically admitted that the only reason they do this is to avoid questions of why they didn't just solve the plot in ten seconds.
    • Anubis is in a bit of a gray area, being an Ascended being who was forcibly "de-Ascended" halfway through. While he doesn't have all the power of an Ascended, he's still immortal and orders of magnitude more powerful than any other creature. He cannot use his Ascended powers, but he isn't restricted in sharing Ascended knowledge — it's still possible in theory for a non-Ascended to attain some Ascended knowledge. The Ancients more or less let him do this on purpose, as punishment to Oma Desala for Ascending him in the first place, forcing her to live with all the horror Anubis causes.
    • In Stargate Atlantis, a coalition of various Pegasus Galaxy civilizations wish that the Tau'ri had one of these. The Atlantis team had, over the course of the series: accidentally triggered the periodic culling by the Wraith generations early; taught the Asurans how to alter their base-code to fight the Wraith but thus accidentally allowed them to implement a plan to wipe out human worlds to deprive the Wraith of food; experimented on a drug to suppress the Iratus bug part of Wraith DNA to turn them human and accidentally created Michael, who used the massive chip on his shoulder to make the Hybrids and try to take over the galaxy (and succeeded in at least one Bad Future); helped perfect the Hoffan drug, a vaccine that prevents Wraith feeding but kills half of those vaccinated, then disavowed it, thinking that the Wraith would just preemptively wipe out the Hoffans, which was exactly what happened, and failed to clean up after themselves, allowing Michael to get a hold of the vaccine (key to his victory in the Bad Future). After all this, it's no wonder the Pegasus natives capture the Atlantis team and put Humanity on Trial.
  • Star Trek is the Trope Codifier in its Prime Directive — whether or not they did it first, they did it the way everyone thinks about. The basic rule is simple: do not contact worlds that have not yet developed interstellar travel, although you can watch from a distance. Although it's considered Starfleet's biggest rule, the franchise has been somewhat inconsistent over where the boundaries of the rule lie. Many stories exist where the protocol has been violated by accident and the crew must initiate damage control.
    • Usually, there's a strict line — newly space-faring worlds must initiate contact. It doesn't matter if they already have a warp drive or already know about other worlds, meaning actual contact is probably imminent — if they haven't made contact, the Federation cannot expose themselves.
    • The lengths to which the Federation might go to ensure the sanctity of the Prime Directive seem to vary by era. In The Original Series, what with its Cowboy Cop protagonist Captain Kirk, the crew could decide to break the Prime Directive if the ship or its crew would otherwise be in serious danger ("The Apple", "A Taste of Armageddon"), the crew needs to do so to fix a problem humans created to begin with (or other entities like the Klingon Empire — don't want them arming the primitive worlds), or when dealing with a society whose development is stifled because it's run by computers ("The Return of the Archons"). If a pre-warp civilization has already been contacted, regardless of their tech level, the Prime Directive doesn't apply and the Federation is free to intervene; after all, the cat's out of the bag already ("A Piece of the Action"). The Prime Directive got a lot stricter as time went on: in "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", Kirk tells the people of Yonada that they're on a spaceship, figuring that the alternative under the Prime Directive would be to exterminate them, and Spock declares this to be logical, but by the time of The Next Generation, they would have no problem with using invasive brain surgery to induce Laser-Guided Amnesia in such situations.
    • There are at least two rules which override the Prime Directive. The first is the Temporal Prime Directive, which prevents any changes to the timestream; it technically doesn't exist yet, having only been mentioned by travelers from the future and a few non-canon and semi-canon sources (like Star Trek: Federation). The second is the top-secret Omega Directive, which prevents anyone from learning of or producing the Omega molecule, which destroys Subspace.
    • In the Next Generation episode "First Contact" (no relation to the movie), the Enterprise crew goes on a secret First Contact mission to the Malcorians, a species on the verge of discovering Warp Drive. Although they haven't made contact with them, Picard meets their leader, discusses the Prime Directive with him, and notes that they are obliged to leave the Malcorians alone if that is his wish. In the meantime, Riker is injured and hospitalized while doing covert surveillance and discovered not to be of their world, and he almost dies because the distrustful minister of security thinks the entire crew is a threat. The leader is convinced that his people are not yet ready but promises to spend money and effort on educating them.
    • In some instances, Sufficiently Advanced Aliens are outside the Federation but have a similar rule and apply it to the Federation protagonists. The idea is that it sucks to be on the receiving end of it.
      • The Voyager episode "Prime Factors" shows a group of aliens who kinda sympathized with the Voyager crew and knew they could get away with contacting them but chose to be Lawful Stupid.
      • The Original Series also explored the Organians, a species of Energy Beings who had evolved that way out of extreme disgust at pain and violence and picked up a non-interference clause in part so that they wouldn't have to see it; but then they stop the Klingon-Federation War because they found the potential bloodshed even worsenote .
    • In a few cases, most of them from later-set works, the crew refuses to intervene because of the Prime Directive even when it shouldn't really apply:
      • In The Next Generation, the Federation refuses to get directly involved in the Klingon Civil War because of the Prime Directive — even though the Klingons are very much an advanced star-faring civilization. It seems more like the Federation just didn't want to get involved in a sticky diplomatic situation; the way they talk, it's as if the Prime Directive has been extended to a general reluctance to intervene in a planet's internal politics. The Federation did step in to stop the Romulans from helping one of the warring sides, though.
      • In "Ensign Ro", they again cite the Prime Directive to avoid intervening in the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor, even though the Federation had been in open warfare with the Cardassians for pretty much the latter half of the Occupation; it's only when the Bajorans finally expel the Cardassians on their own that the Federation steps in and helps them rebuild.
      • In the TNG episode "Pen Pals", Picard refuses to intervene even when the planet was facing extinction from a natural disaster and had asked for help (albeit with no expectation of getting a response). His interpretation of the Prime Directive is that he cannot intervene, even to save a planet from extinction, because in that case a culture's destruction is just part of its "natural development" (until he changes his mind, but the crew make sure to save the planet in a way that no one there will notice). Picard does reflect on the rule and admit it's a flawed ideology, but nobody actually thinks to change it. Indeed, he finds himself doing exactly this again in "Homeward", and he discusses it in "A Matter of Time" with someone who points out that if you intervened in that situation, you could be creating Scary Dogmatic Aliens who cause problems down the line. It's beyond even the strictest Kirk-era interpretation, which would be that you should intervene to prevent a planet's extinction as long as you don't reveal yourselves to them (see "The Paradise Syndrome") — evidently, the rule has changed between Kirk's time and Picard's.
      • In the Voyager episode "Time and Again", Janeway and Paris are stranded on an advanced but pre-warp planet and discover that the inhabitants are using a source of energy so volatile, it will wipe out all life on the planet if used for even one more day. Paris wants to warn them, but Janeway orders him not to, citing the Prime Directive. This shows that the Picard-era rule still takes precedence over the Kirk-era rule.
      • Another Voyager episode titled "Friendship One" deals with the consequences of interfering in a primitive culture, when the ship happens upon a world which was contacted by Friendship One, a probe sent by Earth not long before the ENT era. The probe somehow ended up in the Delta Quadrant and contained information about how to get antimatter and build warp drives. The locals used antimatter for power but also built antimatter missiles. Given their inexperience, one of the power plants exploded, plunging the planet into a nuclear winter. Naturally, the survivors are pissed off at humans, assuming they did this deliberately in order to take the planet for themselves.
      • In the TNG episode "Symbiosis", the Ornarans are suffering from a fatal disease and have become dependent on Brekkian-supplied medicine. Turns out they were cured ages ago — the medicine is just super addicting. The Brekkians have profited stupendously off the addiction, and Ornaran society has basically collapsed. But Picard refuses to intervene, citing the Prime Directive, even though none of the "newer" rules applied — both societies were clearly in contact with each other, it's not a purely internal affair, and the Ornarans didn't cause their own plight. And the Ornarans had asked for help, because their fleet was falling apart and needed Starfleet help to keep making supply runs. Picard was indeed ready to intervene until the last minute, figuring (against all logic, given what else he interacts with) that the Brekkians had "centered their entire society around exploiting the Ornarans" and that's why he can't intervene. (Cue Ornaran freighter crash.)
    • Star Trek: Enterprise takes place before the Prime Directive was even a thing and shows what happens when you don't have one. More than once, the Enterprise crew happily interferes in a pre-warp society only for things to go pear-shaped. It comes to a head in an episode where they encounter a pre-warp race that is dying from a species-wide genetic disorder but happens to also be subjugating another sentient race on the same planet, and the crew doesn't know what to do in this situation; Archer muses that There Should Be a Law for situations like this. While Enterprise seems to explore the reasons behind the future Prime Directive, other Star Trek sources suggest it was originally a Vulcan thing, so whatever.
    • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Sisko is in the precarious situation that he cannot interfere in Bajoran internal affairs, but he is also tasked with acting as the Emissary for their gods at said gods' request. This led to a few odd Prime Directive-related contradictions early in the series. Most egregious is Sisko's refusal to endorse Kai Winn Adami as a candidate for First Minister of Bajor, citing the Prime Directive (or rather the related rule against interference in a planet's internal affairs), which might just be an excuse because he doesn't like her at all and wouldn't endorse her even if he could.
    • In a short Star Trek: Discovery video, the spacefaring Ba'ul exploit the primitive pre-warp Kelpiens so they can periodically slaughter and eat them, but the Prime Directive prohibits Starfleet from intervening even though one of the parties is a space-faring race (Picard rule and not Kirk rule). That is, until one Kelpien leader Saru modifies a piece of Ba'ul tech into a communicator and contacts the USS Shenzhou, apparently demonstrating such extraordinary intelligence that Captain Georgiou is allowed to communicate with him. Although she can't directly help his people, she can extract him from the planet on the condition that he never tries to return.
      • Another Discovery example involves a human Lost Colony 10,000 light years from Earth. The colonists are descended from a group of soldiers and civilians hiding in a chruch during World War III, who were mysteriously transported there by a strange angelic figure. Despite them being human, Pike orders the crew to treat it as a Prime Directive case, since the colonists have never heard of warp drive. Despite this, one of the locals realizes they're from Earth, and Pike ends up making a deal with him, trading a power cell for a soldier helmet camera which recorded the strange event.
    • The premiere episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is centered around a first contact situtation gone wrong with a planet's inhabitants using their newly developed warp technology to make war instead of traveling the stars. Then it is revealed that the planet managed to observe the Battle of Xahea from Discovery's second season, a battle that involved dozens of ships using their warp drives, meaning the Prime Directive was inadvertantly violated. Pike manages to get away with scaring the planet's inhabitants into stopping their wars because the Battle of Xahea and the events surrounding it were declared Classified Information by the Federation, meaning the Federation can't admit what caused the original violation of the Directive in the first place.

    Religion 
  • The Bible. In the Book of Job, Satan invokes a variant of the prime directive to legally bind God from helping Job and to allow Job to suffer. Also, in the Book of Genesis, when Adam forgoes God's rulership, God leaves, probably due to this directive. Then the other books carry through the theme of the hope of when God would or could intervene/interfere fully in human affairs again. (The Ransom story arc deals with this.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889 So averted it’s downright inverted. Europeans actually consider it a good thing if not an outright duty to intervene on Mars and spread the blessings of their civilization to others willy-nilly.
  • 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.
  • In Heroes Unlimited, the Compact prevents technological trading and radical interference with underdeveloped planets, such as Earth. Superheroism and other limited action is fine, but Technology Uplift is out; the Century Station subsetting became a criminal hellhole when a secret attempt to introduce alien technology was aborted midway through by a galactic champion, leading to economic collapse.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
    • At the same time, it is made clear that people from an advanced world ending up on an underdeveloped planet minimize the changes and that they stay within the world's social and technological capabilities as mcuh as they can.
    • The Pangalactic Federation has also been known to play very fast and loose with it, if not outright violating that law itself, even if that knowledge is never officially recognized.
      • The one known case where they forcibly annexed an underdeveloped world, Roak, was to protect its inhabitants from outside interference and possible extinction at the hands of another developed power (which kick started the plot of First Departure, though the annexation happened decades after that game).
      • In another case, it is pointed out that active outside interference was already happening, and they needed to put a stop to it, even if it meant violating the letter of the law (Integrity and Faithlessness).
    • In the case of Expel, it's implied that the leadership and scolars of its nations already knew about or had inferred the existence of other worlds even before formal contact and admission into the Federation.
  • 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 their 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 was 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 three-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 was naturally furious to find out that the turians had performed a pre-emptive strike on an unknown species without getting authorization.
    • The Geth enforce this on themselves, as they believe all species should self-determinate.
    • Subverted with the Protheans, as revealed in Mass Effect 3. When a civilization showed promise, they would make that civilization an offer: join the Prothean empire or be conquered. Those who resisted would inevitably be conquered and forcibly uplifted to become part of the Prothean's galaxy-spanning empire. Either way, cultural assimilation was enforced, such that any number of species might call themselves Prothean.
    • Renegade Shepard can call out the Prothean Javik for his race leaving technology behind, uplifting races forcefully and genetically engineering natural Biotic ability onto the Asari and leaving them the most advanced of their technology, saying "We didn't earn it ourselves," but Javik counters that they had to do this to unite the galaxy to fight off a Reaper genocide.
  • In the MMO Star Citizen, the United Empire of Earth has passed the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits hostile terraforming, mining, or most other forms of Human intervention on any planet with indigenous life of reasonable potential to develop sentience within space discovered and subsequently incorporated into the UEE, prior to the events of the game. Violators can face everything up to and including the might of UEE's military forces. Unfortunately, as the UEE becomes overextended over time, universal enforcement of the act proves difficult.
  • 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, which was a major My God, What Have I Done? for the culture, leading to the Colossi being sealed away and a strict no-interference policy being established as long as there was no threat to the Protoss themselves. The Protoss even considered the warp-capable Terrans to qualify as a lesser race under that policy and only revealed themselves to "purify" Terran colonies that became infested by the Zerg, because while the Terrans weren't a threat, the Zerg were.
    • It's revealed in Legacy of the Void that the Xel'naga also had such a clause. This causes the Protoss quite a bit of concern considering they know the Xel'naga uplifted them. In other words their uplifting was illegal, and thus must have been done by renegade Xel'naga.
  • 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". They refer to it as "keeping the world order." 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 the jig is already up, and not meddling further would probably 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. It comes up again in Kingdom Hearts III though, to the point that "Order" is even one of the entries in the game's glossary. The world order is also the reason why when visiting certain worlds, Donald uses his magic to transform the party. In other words, when visiting Monstropolis the entire party becomes monsters and when visiting the Pride Lands they become various animals, with Sora as a cute little lion cub.
    • In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, the three protagonists are part of an order of Keyblade knights sworn to keep order in the Realm of Light after the Keyblade War shattered it into pieces. While they adhere to the "don't tell locals about other worlds" part of the rule, they have free reign to act openly otherwise due to the Unversed invasion (it's implied that they'd be forbidden to interfere otherwise). Terra ends up violating the clause-such as it is-by telling a young Riku about the world outside Destiny Island and even passes the ability to wield the Keyblade to him, setting him up for his Start of Darkness at the beginning of the series.
  • In Stellaris Empires can set their own policies on what level of observation of native species is allowed, influenced by their ethics. Xenophiles don't approve of abducting primitives for study or indoctrination, but they're often all too willing to uplift them. While Xenophobic empires may do anything they want to pre-FTL races except uplift, up to and including covert or overt invasion.
  • Discussed at some level in Star Fox Adventures. General Pepper tells gung-ho trigger-happy Fox McCloud he can't use his blaster in Dinosaur Planet because the mission is not about "blowing [the planet] up." Luckily for Fox, he happens to find Krystal's staff nearby, letting him fight in some way. However, General Scales' army is outright using highly-advanced technology which Fox at times uses against them. Due to being a case of Aborted Arc involving Drakor originally being the supplier, it's not elaborated upon.
    • By Star Fox: Assault, Sauria (another name for "Dinosaur Planet") still remains as an underdeveloped planet, but Team Star Fox is forced to come in with guns blazing due to the Aparoids laying waste to the planet, making it impossible to suggest using rudimentary options to deal with them.
  • In Star Trek Online, we find out that this is the main reason the Iconians were nearly killed off: they had incredible technology and lesser races wanted it. However, the Iconians feared they would use it for terrible purposes and refused to allow them access at that scale if they weren't sufficiently advanced enough. However, the races grew insanely jealous and thought the Iconians arrogant, thus they ended up bombarding Iconia in order to get the technology. They didn't succeed.
    • Prior to this, there's a set of missions involving the Vaadwaur and the Kobali. The Alpha Quadrant Alliance (The Federation, the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Republic) are called to Kobali Prime, the new home of the Kobali people. There, they learn the Vaadwaur are attacking the planet for an unknown reason. Captain Harry Kim (yeah, that Harry Kim) smells something fishy and tries to investigate, but is warned of the Prime Directive. Ultimately, they find out that Kobali Prime is actually a Vaadwaur world, the Kobali are reviving dead Vaadwaur to become Kobali themselves and the Vaadwaur are not happy at this. Harry decides to take action, but when he's told of the Prime Directive again, he tells the person that it's kinda-sorta too late at this point.
    • Earlier than that, a Federation captain is tasked to join a conference between the Romulan Star Empire and the Federation when it seems Empress Sela wishes to mend bridges after the Federation decided to back the fledgling Romulan Republic as the Empire had been painting the Republic as a bunch of terrorists trying to destabilize the peace. One Romulan ambassador snidely calls you out for siding with the Republic, as the Prime Directive states that they can't get involved with the political disputes of non-Federation worlds. The captain just sidesteps the accusation.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, this is a belief (though seemingly not a true rule) of the Psijic Order, a powerful Magical Society and the oldest monastic order in Tamriel. While they do offer to serve as advisors (a sacred duty which they call "seliffrnsae," meaning "grave and faithful counsel",) they do not intervene in the affairs of other groups, preferring to let events play out from afar. The few times they've violated this have been to avert events with The End of the World as We Know It level consequences (such as sinking the Maormer fleet and confiscating the Eye of Magnus). They've even been known to remove all trace of Artaeum, their home island, from the physical world during times of extreme political chaos presumably so no one group could attempt to use them against another.

    Webcomics 
  • 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 civilization 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:
    • Deconstructed via author's note. Of course, the civilization Tagon was running guns to was already being exploited and enslaved by other aliens, so Prime Directive type rules probably wouldn't apply anyway.
    • Later, when the company is hiding from the Teraport Wars, they discover a primitive planet with two species on it.
      • The first are pseudo-whales who meet the mercenaries when one of them tries to eat the captain, who quite justifiably kills it. While the company chaplain is trying to figure out if it was sentient, the rest of the company is eating it. And when the chaplain complains that he needed to examine the brain they ate, he is told "We can always kill a few more for you. We can get more brains."
        Theo: Lord have mercy on their souls, because I am certain they know not what they do.
      • The second are a humanoid tool-using species Schlock encounters while fighting a carnivorous plant. Once again, the chaplain is wondering whether or not they should interfere, while some of the company have already taught the natives volleyball, and the demolitions expert is almost done teaching them how to make gunpowder.
      • When the company has to leave, they leave behind an Uplift robot to bring the humanoids up to a modern standard of living in just a few generations. Unfortunately, the natives toss it into a volcano in an attempt to bring the mercenaries back. Fortunately, the ensuing eruption ("Shhka....") forced the land-dwelling natives to migrate closer to the ocean and the experience of meeting and interacting with the mercenaries made them less suspicious of outsiders allowing them to form a mutually beneficial alliance with the pseudo-whales when they climbed up on the beach. It also forced them to migrate across the ocean before a massive super-eruption occurred that would otherwise have wiped them out.
  • 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 Leaving the Cradle, The Alliance have a directive that forbids contacting species below a certain development level, to not affect their culture and society. Guess if Earthlings qualify as advanced. Things get complicated when one of the researchers alongside one surviving military personnel accidentally gets stranded on Earth.
  • Grrl Power: While there aren't many formal rules in place, there are many informal ones. For the most part, pre-FTL civilizations have nothing galactic civilizations need. Furthermore, it's generally considered a good idea to let a species get past all the great extinction filters on their own; if a species is the type to nuke themselves into extinction, everyone else would prefer to just let them do it rather than uplifting them and then having to deal with them having much more powerful weapons.
  • Bridget seems compelled to follow the Prime Directive by name in Latchkey Kingdom. Certain words related to technologies in her original dimension are rendered as being scribbled out or as █████ █████. We don't know how this sounds, but it shocks Janus and Svana the first time they hear it.

    Web Original 
  • Astrobiologica: The human scientists determine that because Ecco is developing thriving ecosystems on its own, it would be unethical to introduce Earth life to it. However, they also determine that its twin Xea will not develop life on its own, so it's okay to settle that planet.
  • 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.
  • The Jenkinsverse has an ineffective version of this that reads more like wildlife conservation than any effort to preserve the cultural identity of fellow sophonts.
  • The Primogenitors from Starsnatcher have a galaxy-spanning wormhole network, yet they never even revealed themselves to humans and this trope is the reason. Within their network, they have several planets (like Eden) which have no sapient native creatures on them. Settlers are allowed, but they must live under caveman-like conditions. Conveniently, their lack of advanced tech also made them less susceptible to The Plague.

    Western Animation 
  • In Central Park, Birdie is the Character Narrator of the show and he knows when certain events will happen and gives details about the main characters' actions. As the narrator, there are rules he must abide to, one important rule is no revealing spoilers to the main characters, not even to the audience. But in "Dog Spray Afternoon", he accidentally revealed a spoiler to Paige when he gets frustrated when she's taking too long to figure something out, resulting in him being replaced by another narrator named Griffin. In Season 1 "Rival Busker", Griffin explains to Birdie that he lost his job as narrator because a narrator isn't supposed to insert themselves in the plot, get "too close" to the main characters, or be their Guardian Angel- in his own words, "they gotta make their own decisions, we just get to watch". However, after Birdie risks being forced out of the story completely to help Owen and Cole out of a tree, the cosmic narrative force they both serve seems to believe that narrators can be guardian angels and makes Birdie the narrator again, despite Griffin's protests that he "broke the rules".
  • 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 Ready Jet Go!, Jet's parents are intergalactic travel writers from the planet Bortron 7. They came to Earth to study it and write reports on it. In "Back to Bortron 7", they state that their number one rule is "don't freak out the locals", which basically means that they can't expose their alien identity to humans or tamper with Earth in any way. Jet struggles to keep his alien identity a secret throughout the series, and it fuels the drama and comedy of several episodes. Heck, the official PBS description of Carrot and Celery even calls the rule the Prime Directive.
  • 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.
  • Averted in 3-2-1 Penguins!, judging how the penguins just bring Jason and/or Michelle aboard their ship so nonchalantly without any regard to whatever consequences come with abducting two children from a planet that hasn't developed faster-than-light space travel.
  • On Challenge of the GoBots, the Guardians kept this policy toward Earth for a long time (hence the Earth vehicle disguises), but abandon it after the Renegades irrevocably blow their cover.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks brings this back with the episode "Crisis Point" where Ensign Beckett Mariner frees a world where lizards are being opressed and eaten by the ruling rat people and is promptly chewed out by Captain Carol Freeman for breaking the Prime Directive. Mariner's problem is that trying to solve things involving the Prime Directive and other things just takes too long with the Federation's Vast Bureaucracy and she'd rather solve things now. The next episode has Freeman realize that the Prime Directive has problems. For example, the people of Beta III are back to worshiping Landru, and the main crisis of the episode involves the "walking joke" Pakleds suddenly being highly dangerous. Freeman says afterwards that there problems could have been avoided had Starfleet bothered to check back more frequently rather than let the Prime Directive limit them.
  • Like his comics counterpart, Uatu the Watcher of What If...? (2021) abides by this rule, watching over the new timelines spreading from the Sacred Timeline due to the events of Loki (2021). In "What if... Dr. Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?", Strange Supreme, having noticed Uatu earlier in the episode, begs him to fix the damage he caused and punish him, but he refuses, knowing he could cause even more damage. In the episode "What if...Ultron Won?", Uatu is forced to cross the Godzilla Threshold and ask Strange's help in stopping Ultron Infinity from murdering the multiverse.

    Real Life 
  • The Other Wiki has a list of peoples who have kept culturally isolated or were until fairly recently. Most of them have an estimated 300 or fewer people (which is not a sustainable population without massive problems due to inbreeding). In general, uncontacted 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. Though others have suggested that aliens aren't interfering with us because we're just not that interesting and a third that believes it's because they get wiped out before reaching the technological capacity to travel interstellar distances.
  • 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 Galileo into Jupiter instead.). The Cassini spacecraft was also deorbited into Saturn on September 2017 to avoid contamination of the moon Enceladus, known to have a subsurface water ocean. Juno, a probe currently orbiting Jupiter, will experience the same fate for the same reasons once its mission ends. 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 and Cassini would have been in the least strict classification, being remote sensing platforms 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.
  • Surtsey. A volcanic island that emerged from the Atlantic off the southern coast of Iceland in November 1963 as a result of an underwater volcano eruption. As it offered an incomparable opportunity to study the process of biocolonization of the completely barren and dead rock, it is strictly protected from any human intervention. Only a few scientists ever set foot on Surtsey, all in heavy protective gear designed so that not a single plant seed or a piece of moss or fungi could adhere to it, to prevent accidental introduction of a new lifeform on the island; it was mostly studied from the air, and the pilots of the planes carrying scientists were instructed not to land on the island, but ditch as far away as possible in case of potential emergency (none happened so far).
  • The Sentinelese people of the North Sentinelese islands are an extremely isolated tribal people who have never had any meaningful extended contact with the outside world during modern times. The people are protected from outside contact by the law of India, since they are technically an Indian territory. In 2018, evangelical Protestant missionary John Allen Chau was killed by the Sentinelese shortly after he came to their island in an attempt to preach Christianity. The fishermen who (illegally) transported Chau to the island were later arrested.
    • Part of the reason for the prohibition of contacting this tribe is their own protection, since they have no immunity to outside diseases. Chau attempted to mitigate this risk before contacting them by quarantining himself before going to them, although he technically broke quarantine by being around the (unquarantined) fishermen who brought him to the island.

 
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Doctor Strange and the Watcher

Strange Supreme, Realising that He has Doomed The Universe, begs Uatu to save the universe, but the Watcher refuses Stating that Strange of all people should know of the consequences of manipulating time and space to his extent.

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