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Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law

About US

Mission Statement

CERL is a non-partisan interdisciplinary institute dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rule of law in twenty-first century warfare and national security. The only Center of its kind housed within a law school, CERL draws from the study of law, philosophy, and ethics to answer the difficult questions that arise in times of war and contemporary transnational conflicts. It represents the vision of its founder and director, Professor Claire Finkelstein, in uniting scholars and policymakers from various fields in a multi-disciplinary conversation on some of the most challenging issues of our time.

How CERL is Unique

Embracing the need for scholarship and discussion addressing ethical dilemmas in the national security space, CERL stands out as a leader among academic centers. By focusing on ethical and rule of law values, CERL has carved out a unique niche for itself among academic institutes focusing on national security law and policy. Both in the interdisciplinary methodology it uses, and in the subject matter it addresses, CERL has been successfully stimulating conversation across and within academia, government, and the private sector since its inception in 2012.

CERL’s commitment to addressing practical and moral questions teaches academics and policymakers to work collaboratively to help safeguard the rule of law. Bridging theory and practice in an open and vibrant intellectual environment, CERL events provide an opportunity for intellectual exchange, as well as an avenue for networking and professional development across multiple disciplines. CERL enjoys a particularly constructive partnership with the armed services, and its members are regularly invited to conduct briefings and consultations relating to military ethics. The interdisciplinary exchange CERL facilitates has the potential to impact policy at the highest levels.

Beyond building relationships with active practitioners, CERL solicits the expertise of scholars in a variety of academic fields, such as philosophy, political science, psychology, medicine, and engineering, among others. Additionally, CERL collaborates with actors in the private sector to understand the challenges faced by executives in the global defense industry. Establishing, maintaining, and expanding its network of relationships across many fields is the key to CERL’s success.

CERL’s Impact

As it enters its fifth year of operation, CERL continues to expand its range of activities and programs. During the 2015-2016 season, CERL events explored topics such as 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, among others. In the 2016-2017 season, CERL will further expand its range of topics. Conferences will address the characteristics and qualities of ethical leaders, how the legal system may be used to combat terror, and protecting cultural heritage in areas beset by war. By looking beyond the orthodox problems of war and national security, CERL produces unique scholarship and engaging exchanges between inspiring academics and practitioners at the highest levels.

CERL is well positioned to have a positive impact on policy at the national level. With an Executive Board comprised of top academics and practitioners, CERL increasingly engages policy-makers of significance within its areas of expertise. CERL events regularly attract military leaders, both domestic and foreign, prominent practitioners from the intelligence community, as well as military and civilian lawyers who have served the executive branch in a variety of roles. Through its activities and publications, CERL helps students, academics, practitioners, and the public at large to cultivate a clearer understanding of the rule of law.


As the Center enters its fifth year of operation, CERL conferences continue to inspire constructive discussions on an expanding range of topics relating to modern warfare and national security. Through its round-table conference series, CERL offers a unique forum for the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas relating to foundational issues facing public leaders. In conjunction with these multiday conferences, the Center hosts a variety of public lectures delivered by significant speakers. This year’s topics have advanced our understanding of veterans’ issues, most notably the traumatic effects of PTSD and moral injury on soldiers and communities. Furthering its efforts to raise awareness of pressing national security issues, the Center has also highlighted the impact of sexual violence on women in regions beset by war. By looking beyond the traditional questions raised in war and national security, CERL is able to produce unique and engaging scholarship, policy papers, informative briefings and public gatherings.

CERL events are typically followed by the publication of a collection of original essays penned by conference participants. In collaboration with Oxford University Press, the Center has published two volumes to date, Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World and Cyberwar: Law and Ethics for Virtual Conflicts.  Both were received with critical acclaim. With three more volumes accepted for publication, and a number of additional volumes forthcoming, CERL continues to broaden its reach and increasingly provides a valuable resource for students and academics alike.