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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 legal scholarship that addresses issues of national security while providing moral justification for legal positions, CERL stands out as a leader in a small community by dedicating events and scholarship solely to national security and its relationship to the rule of law. While some institutes have significantly contributed to research on rule of law issues, they focus on the criminal justice system. Other centers specialize in areas of national security, but do not put a strong emphasis on the pressing ethical issues relating to national security. CERL is unique in bringing together research regarding rule of law and national security issues to one world renowned university.

In order to encourage interdisciplinary scholarship, the Center’s approach to ethics and legal theory does not appeal to any particular doctrine or locate itself within any single field of study. Rather, CERL embraces diversity in thought and seeks the experience of professionals and scholars from a variety of backgrounds. CERL’s commitment to practical moral questions requires that no matter what school of ethics or legal theory one adheres, they must be able to bridge theory and practice. More than a forum for only legal scholars and philosophers, CERL events create an open and pluralistic environment for intellectual exchange and career development across many disciplines at a time when informed understanding and societal improvement is more critical than ever before.

CERL’s Impact

CERL activities display increasing impact on policy at the national and local levels. With an Executive Board and Advisory Council comprised of academics and practitioners possessing significant experience in their respective fields, CERL engages both theoreticians and policy-makers in academia, government, and the private sector. CERL events regularly attract United States military Generals, leaders in national security and from the intelligence community, as well as military and civilian lawyers who have served the Executive Branch in advisory roles. CERL connects these public leaders with scholars in a variety of academic fields, including law, philosophy, political science, psychology, medicine, communications, engineering, and others. 

Reflective and engaged dialogue around national security is more important now than ever before. In an effort to meet the increasingly complex demands of national security practice, the U.S. and other nations have adopted policies that raised difficult questions about the legality and ethics of military and intelligence practices. That has in turn led to a reexamination of ethical constraints and duties in many aspects of professional life and serves as an opportunity for legal and ethical evolution. CERL envisions itself as a leading voice in the enhancement of government and private sector ethics, particularly where national security imperatives test our commitment to ethical values.  


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.