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Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law

About Us

Mission: To preserve and promote ethics and the rule of law in national security, democratic governance, and contemporary conflict and warfare

CERL is a non-partisan interdisciplinary institute dedicated to preserving and promoting ethics and the rule of law in national security, democratic governance, and contemporary conflict and warfare. CERL draws from the study of law, ethics, and philosophy and unites scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to probe critical national security and governance issues and answer many of the difficult questions that arise in these challenging times. 

Using the tools of interdisciplinary engagement and open dialogue, CERL has tackled foreign interference in democratic institutions, limits of executive authority, interrogation techniques and torture, cyber attacks and other grey zone tactics, weaponization of outer space, military threats from North Korea, drone strikes, journalistic challenges in national security reporting, ethical dilemmas in the global defense industry, ethics of autonomous weapons systems, and many other issues. 

Overarching Aim: To guide policymakers and raise public consciousness on vital ethical and rule of law issues 

Military and intelligence personnel, lawyers, and other private sector professionals, journalists, and experts in the disciplines of ethics, philosophy, political science, international relations, and the sciences converge at CERL conferences and symposia to engage in robust interdisciplinary discussion and analysis to provide normative guidance to policymakers, public officials, the private business sector, and the general public. Since 2012, CERL has been deepening and enriching both expert and public awareness on ethical and rule of law values embedded in national security imperatives.

How CERL is Unique: A focus on the ethical dimensions of national security policy

While other centers and programs address national security policy, CERL specializes in the ethical dimensions of current and contemplated national security policies and practices and their adherence to the rule of law. By performing the critical work of educating government servants, private sector professionals, students, and the general public on ethical and rule of law values, CERL has carved out a niche among academic institutes centered on national security law and policy. 

CERL’s commitment to addressing practical and moral questions teaches academics, policymakers, and practitioners to work collaboratively to help safeguard the rule of law. Bridging theory and practice in an open and vibrant environment, CERL events provide an opportunity for intellectual exchange to answer the difficult questions that arise in national security matters. CERL enjoys a particularly constructive partnership with the armed services, and CERL experts are regularly invited by them to conduct briefings and consult on ethics issues. The interdisciplinary exchange CERL facilitates has the potential to impact policy at the highest levels.

CERL’s Impact: Discourse, analysis, and writings that clarify the rule of law 

Because CERL looks beyond the orthodox problems of war and national security, it produces unique scholarship and productive exchanges between academics and practitioners at the highest levels. As it enters its seventh year of operation, CERL continues to hold conferences on critical topics like violence against women in war, the effects of PTSD and moral injury on soldiers and communities, the ethical implications of negotiating with hostile non-state actors, characteristics of ethical leaders, ways the legal system can be used to combat terror, and the protection of cultural heritage in areas beset by war. Conferences regularly attract prominent domestic and foreign military leaders, members of the intelligence community, and military and civilian lawyers who have served the executive branch in a variety of roles. 

CERL conferences are typically followed by the publication of a collection of original essays penned by conference participants. In collaboration with Oxford University Press, CERL has published four volumes to date, Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World; Cyberwar: Law and Ethics for Virtual Conflicts; Weighing Lives in War: Combatants and Civilians; and Sovereignty and the New Executive Authority. CERL periodically issues policy briefing papers on topics like the ethics of interrogation and torture and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

CERL also hosts public symposia and lectures by prominent speakers and a series of book talks where authors discuss their published work.

By looking beyond the traditional questions raised in war and national security, CERL is able to produce unique and engaging scholarship, public events, informative briefings, and policy papers and other publications, all of which help policymakers, public officials, the private sector, and the general public cultivate a clearer understanding of the rule of law.