Get to know NTI: Leon Ratz

Leon Ratz is a Program Officer with NTI’s Material Security and Minimization program. He works on issues pertaining to the security of military nuclear materials, Russian nuclear security, and other nuclear security and non-proliferation matters. Before NTI, Ratz worked for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as a policy specialist on Russian nuclear security in the Office for International Material Protection and Cooperation in the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration. He has a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a master’s degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government where he worked as a student associate at Harvard’s Project on Managing the Atom and published a report on the national security implications of the dissolution of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

How did you end up in Washington and at NTI?

I followed the advice of two of my grad school professors, Will Tobey and Matthew Bunn, to come down to Washington in 2013 for a fellowship at the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). There I had the opportunity to work on nuclear security cooperation with Russia during (unfortunately) the last days of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. One of my mentors at NNSA was Andrew Bieniawski, and after he retired from government, he suggested I apply for a job at NTI to work on the nuclear materials security and minimization team. I’ll never forget my second day on the job when I got to brief Senator Nunn on issues related to U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation. That’s when I knew I had landed one of the coolest jobs in DC.

Your work at NTI cuts across several departments. What are your main areas of focus?

Right now, I mostly work on projects related to Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and pretty much anywhere else that speaks Russian or a similar language.  As you can imagine, with everything that’s going on in the news, there is no shortage of things to work on day-to-day. Right now I’m working on a very interesting initiative to improve regional cooperation on radiological security in Central Asia. 

I’m also part of the team drafting a new report in our Rising Nuclear Dangers series on competing interpretations of strategic stability between Russia and the West. 

You are one of NTI’s Russia experts and you’re fluent in the language. What sparked your interest in Russian studies – and which came first, your interest in Russia or in nuclear security?

Well, my interest in Russia certainly came first. I’m from the neighborhood originally (I was born in Ukraine), so I’ve had a strong interest in regional issues since I was a kid. I knew I wanted to get into nuclear issues when I was a junior in college and read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, which offered a harrowing account of what it was like on the ground in Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Ever since I read that book, I knew I wanted to get into a line of work that helped make sure we’d never witness such hell again.

What are you most proud of?

I’d probably say getting to work for Senator Nunn and Secretary Moniz on nuclear weapons issues. That’s pretty darn cool. Also, depending on the year, the Boston College hockey team. GO EAGLES!

We’re determined at NTI to engage new voices on nuclear security issues. What’s the best way to build next-generation leaders on these tough issues?

I think it comes down to getting folks to really (and I mean REALLY) understand just how dangerous these weapons are.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed tens of thousands of people in a second – and many more in the hours, days, and years to follow. 

Imagine what today’s thermonuclear weapons can do. That’s the message young folks like me need to hear as they make up their minds about nuclear weapons.

What do you do when you’re not trying to save the world?

I watch movies about saving the world. The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, The Peacemaker, and Air Force One are among my favorites. 

August 14, 2017
Mimi Hall
Mimi Hall

Senior Director for Content

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