CERL is a non-partisan interdisciplinary institute dedicated to preserving and promoting the rule of law in twenty-first century national security, warfare, and democratic governance. 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. CERL is affiliated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) at the University of Pennsylvania.
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.
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.
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 nears its tenth 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 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 a number of volumes under the Oxford Series on Ethics, National Security, and the Rule of Law, and periodically issues policy briefing papers.