2024 Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement

Thaddeus A. Ryba Jr.

Played a critical diplomatic and scientific role in international negotiations that led to the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria and Libya, contributed to the final destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile and enabled the banning of deadly nerve agents.

Chemical weapons in Syria and Libya posed a threat of mass destruction, so when the United States and its allies won their elimination, the world was considered safer. Yet because the U.S. still had chemical weapon stockpiles, a military anachronism dating to World War I, adversaries who called our country a chemical weapons hypocrite gained credibility. 

Today, those last stockpiles, which had been lingering in storage in Kentucky and Colorado amid concerns over how best to destroy them safely, are gone—the last of them dismantled in 2023, just as the chemical weapons threats were eliminated in Syria in 2014 and Libya in 2017. Diplomats and scientific experts credit much of those momentous events to Thaddeus (Ted) Ryba, a Defense Department senior advisor for chemical weapons disposal who has served in the government for four decades.  

“Americans don’t have to worry about chemical weapons at night because Ted was out there making sure they don’t have to worry about those things,” said Ambassador Kenneth Ward, a State Department official and former U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an organization representing 193 member states dedicated to permanently and verifiably eliminating chemical weapons.  

Ryba combined diplomatic skills and scientific knowledge  

Ryba, a chemical engineer, launched his career in chemical weapons destruction in 1994, joining an Army program tasked with destroying the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. He also spent a decade at a Utah military facility, where he managed a billion-dollar program aimed at dismantling the largest portion of the stockpile, realizing $400 million in cost avoidance for the U.S. government.   

In 2012, he leveraged this experience to become a senior advisor for the U.S. delegation to the OPCW.   

Over the next five years, he engaged face-to-face with Syria and Russia, and employed his technical expertise to directly influence Libya to transport and destroy its chemical weapons. In doing so, he helped rid the world of some of the most horrific weapons which, in the hands of ISIS or other terrorists, could potentially have wreaked havoc.  

Ryba also led the chemical weapons delegation’s successful efforts to add two families of nerve agents to the Chemical Weapons Convention Annex on Chemicals, including the Novichok nerve agent used in a 2018 assassination attempt in the United Kingdom.  

“He is this unusual combination of a guy who understands the science but is also extremely good at the diplomatic skills that you need to advance U.S. objectives,’’ said Joseph Manso, the former U.S. Permanent Representative to the OPCW. “Ted was the indispensable figure—the beating heart of this effort.”  

U.S. eliminates chemical weapons stockpile  

Ryba also helped other nations understand that concerns in Kentucky and Colorado about environmental and health contamination in nearby communities, rather than outright refusal, were the reasons that elimination efforts dragged on in the U.S. despite treaties calling for the stockpile’s ban. The final work in Kentucky in July 2023 marked the first time an entire category of weapons of mass destruction has been verifiably eliminated.  

“We were so late in getting it destroyed that it created more leverage for Russia and other bad-guy countries to beat us up on that,” explained Charles Ball, associate chief of staff at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a former deputy assistant defense secretary in the chemical weapons demilitarization program. 

All told, Ryba was the senior U.S. advisor for the chemical weapons program from August 2012 to December 2023. His international work on chemical weapons ended when 100% of the world’s declared stockpiles had been destroyed, although rogue nations that might hide weapons require continued vigilance.  

“Do we have a world free of chemical weapons? No,” Manso said. “Did we take a big step in the direction of a world free of chemical weapons? Yes. And that’s the importance of what Ted did.” 

Today, Ryba works as General Engineer for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, where he is associated with developing the next generation of ground-based strategic deterrence.  

“I’m almost 40 years into my federal career, and the longer I serve, the more I want to continue to do good for the people of the United States,” he said.