Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, we feature some of The Interpreter's best pieces from 2014. More to come between now and 12 January when The Interpreter returns for 2015.

Kabul, Buzkashi and palachman: Photos from life in Afghanistan, by Claire Stewart, 20 February.

Normally winter snow in Kabul is nothing special. But warmer weather this season has meant an unusually dry few months, with falls of the white stuff intermittent at best. Kabulians are already predicting another year of drought for their regional counterparts, who rely on snow melt to fill the rivers and irrigation systems. This is Kart e Sakhi mosque, which sits below TV Hill in the suburb of the same name.

Democracy triumphs in Ukraine? Think again, by Matthew Sussex, 24 February.

Past events suggest the prospects for Ukraine are bleak. In 25 years of independence it has been hopelessly mismanaged, riven by infighting, and teetered close to bankruptcy. Each side in Ukraine's complex political elite has conducted shady deals that enriched a small kleptocracy. Its currency is artificially overvalued, the economy has stagnated, and nearly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. It came in at 144 out of 177 nations inTransparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, and its GDP per capita in 2012 was about US$3866 (Australia’s, by contrast, was over $67,000).

US position hardens on China’s nine-dashed line, by Scott Bentley, 27 February.

As a result, the US has now made explicit that which was implicit: that the Chinese 'nine-dashed line' map is contrary to international law. In order to prevent any perceptions of unilateral intent, the US is likely now to ask the same of its allies and partners in the region, including ASEAN and Australia.

Many nations have already come to this conclusion, and a number of ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, are on record to this effect. Now is the time for all of them to step up publicly, not in opposition to China, but in support of the rules and norms that serve as the foundation of the global maritime commons.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Where economics and geopolitics meet, by Stephen Grenville, 4 March.

The TPP, however, has more diplomatic content than Krugman acknowledges. It is the economic component of the 'Asia pivot', tying together America's East Asian friends. Japan joined the negotiations last year. Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia have been in it from the start and the Americans have been trying hard to get Indonesia and other East Asians to join in. Korea is a de facto party, having recently completed a comprehensive bilateral preferential trade arrangement (PTA) with the US. 

The TPP clearly has a substantial geopolitical element, but does it get this tricky topic right?

The conspicuous exclusion is China. American policy insiders are adamant that this is not part of a process of containing China, but this would certainly be the outcome, whether intended or not. An alternative (or additional) explanation is that the objective is to get the rules set before inviting China to join the party, thus giving China an invidious choice: remain outside the top tier trade club or agree to a set of rules you had no part in developing and which will be a poor fit for your way of doing business.

Photo courtesy of Claire Stewart.