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Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law

About Us

Dedicated to: The preservation and promotion of the rule of law in twenty-first century warfare and national security 

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. 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.  

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, and academics in the disciplines of ethics, philosophy, political science, and international relations converge at CERL conferences and symposia to engage in robust 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 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 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 focused on national security law and policy. 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. 

The Issues: Matters of urgent public import

By bridging theory and practice in an open environment, CERL experts are able to meaningfully tackle the pressing issues of the day like executive authority and its limits, interrogation techniques and torture, cyberattacks and other grey zone tactics, weaponization of outer space, Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), targeted killings, the global defense industry, use of autonomous weapons systems, and many others. Many of the issues have international dimensions and implications, and the CERL conferences covering them include participants at the highest levels from across the globe.

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

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 servants, the private sector, and the general public cultivate a clearer understanding of the rule of law.

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, and ways the legal system can be used to combat terror. 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 also hosts public symposia and lectures by prominent speakers and a series of book talks where authors discuss their published, high-profile work.

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 under the Oxford Series on Ethics, National Security, and the Rule of Law: Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical WorldCyberwar: Law and Ethics for Virtual ConflictsWeighing 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).