- "Orion's official neutrality comes before this ship, its crew or its commander. There is too much at stake..." — the Orion pirate captain (TAS novelization: The Pirates of Orion)
The Orion Neutrality Act was the legal definition of Orion neutrality, as decreed by the Botchok Planetary Congress (BPC). It defined the terms of how the Orion people would relate to other interstellar powers, and saved them from alien domination in the 23rd century.
Predicting that the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire would inevitably meet and come into conflict, the BPC began drafting how they would declare their neutrality in the coming war. When, on reference stardate 1/5105.02 (c. 2222), Starfleet and Klingon vessels clashed for the first time, the Orion Neutrality Act was immediately passed. The Act declared that the Rigel system and all the Orion Colonies were unaligned with any space-faring power, and had the right to trade with whoever they wished, whatever they liked, on their terms and without having to say how or where the goods came from. At the cost of increased border tensions with the Federation, it preserved interstellar trade with the Orions, and what little political power they had.
By the terms of the Act, any foreign power that wished to send military vessels into or through Orion space had to first give notice, submit an itinerary and schedule to authorities at Botchok (Rigel VIII), and keep them apprised of their locations, though access was not restricted. Weapons could not be powered and unauthorized scans could not be made, which prevented Starfleet ships from examining the traffic between the Colonies and the Klingon Empire. The boundaries of Orion space were left vague.
These terms were unpopular with the neighboring powers. An outraged Federation Council feared that information on Starfleet missions would be leaked straight to the Klingons, and saw the alleged neutrality as a screen to conceal smuggling operations, pirate raids, and covert dealings with the Klingons. The Klingons meanwhile were less annoyed, being compensated with the leaked data while they could still lie about their own activities as they prepared invasion fleets. The alternative to accepting the Act was a cessation of valuable trade through the Rigel system, or a conquest of the system to ensure it, unthinkable by Federation standards and for the Klingons at the time not worth invading a Federation-friendly state.
The Four Years War finally broke out on stardate 1/9409.29 (c. 2250s), with a Klingon invasion fleet entering the Federation via Orion space and finally invading Rigel. The Neutrality Act was tested in the Laxala Incident of stardate 1/9504, when an Orion merchant captain destroyed his own ship and its cargo of dilithium bound for the Federation world of Alphosa, rather than fall prey to the Klingon task force that intercepted it. The BPC reacted by issuing the Sacred Cargoes act, declaring that Orion merchants were to be untouchable. A threat to destroy Rigel XII's dilithium mines ensured compliance, the survival of the Orion economy and a secure supply of dilithium to the Federation.
The Axanar Peace Treaty that concluded the war called for the removal of all Klingons "to the opposite side of Orion space". Since that area had been left undefined by the BPC, the Federation formed the Rigel Demilitarized Zone Commission on stardate 1/9709.01 to officially set an Orion border, inside which the Orion Neutrality Act would be allowed, and outside which Federation law would rule. After heated debate turning into a riot that left two dead, the BPC capitulated and the Orion Neutrality Area was formed. (FASA RPG modules: The Orions: Book of Deep Knowledge, The Orions: Book of Deep Knowledge)
Orion neutrality was threatened after an Orion spy was caught attempting to sabotage the Babel Conference in 2268 (TOS episode: "Journey to Babel"), and again in 2270 when an Orion vessel and its crew were captured by the USS Enterprise after pirating the USS Huron. Both incidents cast doubt on the Orions' alleged neutrality. (TAS episode: "The Pirates of Orion")
They didn't end Orion neutrality however, and it was in fact advanced under BPC president Refner Gyron the Sly, from stardate 2/1606 (c. 2276) to 2/2106 (c. 2283), with a new policy of aggressive quid pro quo neutrality between the Federation, the Klingons and now the Romulans, with increased intelligence gathering and trade. (FASA RPG modules: The Orions: Book of Deep Knowledge, The Orions: Book of Deep Knowledge)
This neutrality was not easy to maintain, and frequently Orion pirates, merchants and military vessels would choose to destroy themselves (and any enemies in range) rather than submit to alien interference or to preserve the secrecy of their covert actions, while the Orion governments would claim that they were independent rogues. Hundreds of Orion Space Navy ships sacrificed themselves this way. (TOS episode: "Journey to Babel", TAS episode: "The Pirates of Orion", FASA RPG modules: The Orions: Book of Deep Knowledge, The Orions: Book of Deep Knowledge, TOS comic: "All of Me")