Richard Johnson

Washington, DC

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Contributor Since 21 August 2020

Richard Johnson is senior director for fuel cycle and verification at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Richard previously served as the deputy lead coordinator (acting) for Iran Nuclear Implementation at the U.S. Department of State, having also served as assistant coordinator for Iran Nuclear Issues. Prior to working at the Department of State, Johnson was director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council in the Obama Administration. Johnson held numerous positions at the Department of State, including as special assistant to Secretary Hillary Clinton's special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control and as nonproliferation officer for the Office of Korean Affairs, as well as a posting to the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Johnson has been involved deeply in Iran and North Korea nuclear issues, including as a member of the U.S. delegations to the JCPOA Joint Commission and the Six-Party Talks. On assignment to the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, Johnson was a U.S. nuclear disablement monitor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility in the DPRK. He also previously served as senior legislative aide and field representative for California Assembly member Carol Liu. He graduated as valedictorian from Claremont McKenna College and later earned his masters degree at Princeton University's School of Public and International Affairs. Johnson is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was a Presidential Management Fellow, as well as a one-time Jeopardy champion. He is a Southern California native and proficient in Mandarin Chinese.


Mentor Background

What is your area of expertise?

  • Nuclear non-proliferation
  • Are you interested in mentoring high school or college students, or both?

  • High School Students
  • College Students
  • How did you become interested in this area?

    I was drawn into the topic based on a course I took in graduate school about stemming the spread of uranium enrichment plants - i.e. preventing new proliferation cases likes those in Iran and North Korea.  After finding that first course so interesting, I took more courses and eventually was able to use some of the gained knowledge to begin working at the State Department working on nonproliferation issues, including on North Korea and Iran.

    What was your career path to get here?

    As I noted above, I was able to take a few courses on the subject, and combined with my other work and knowledge in Asian regional affairs, I was named a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. State Department working on North Korean nuclear issues.  From there, I was able to segue into other roles and expand my scope and knowledge of nonproliferation and arms control issues, including positions at the White House under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  I left the State Department in May 2018, following the Trump Administration's decision to leave the Iran Nuclear Deal (I was leading the office overseeing implementation of the deal), and I joined the Nuclear Threat Initiative as Senior Director for Fuel Cycle and Verification.

    Why should the public care?

    I was drawn into the topic based on a course I took in graduate school about stemming the spread of uranium enrichment plants - i.e. preventing new proliferation cases likes those in Iran and North Korea.  After finding that first course so interesting, I took more courses and eventually was able to use some of the gained knowledge to begin working at the State Department working on nonproliferation issues, including on North Korea and Iran.

    What is a current issue or trend that concerns you?

    There are many - but I am particularly concerned at the U.S. government's abandonment of diplomatic tools and multilateral approaches to reduce nuclear risks, whether that is leaving the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal), the INF treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, and the lack of action to date to extend the New START Treaty, which is the last remaining arms control agreement between Russia and the United States.  We need to re-engage with the world and stop self-isolating ourselves and alienating our friends and allies.

    Would you be willing to speak to a classroom about your work?

    Yes

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