Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2014. More to come between now and January 12 when The Interpreter will be back for 2015.

Is Abbott spreading Australia too thin?, by Ely Ratner, 12 September.

This is about how, not if, Australia should be a global player.

Perhaps this is where politics and strategy diverge, but hearing that Prime Minister Abbott was sending another 100 police to support efforts in Ukraine, a country in which Australia didn't even have an embassy prior to September 2014, made me wonder whether Australia might be better served by a leader more akin to candidate Abbott, who committed to 'more Jakarta, less Geneva.'

All things being equal, of course Australian contributions in Europe and the Middle East are welcome. And no doubt the Obama Administration values the ability to cast its initiatives as multilateral.

But all things aren't equal. And Australia's backyard, especially Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, is emerging as a focal point of international politics. Therein, Australia's partnerships with India and Japan harbour critical opportunities for exceptional economic and security cooperation. Moreover, Australia has the essential task of preparing for potential instability in the Pacific Islands.

G20 Brisbane Summit: Australia's adolescence on show, by Peter Hartcher, 8 December.

It was, of course, the adolescent huffs and squalls that got most of the publicity. First was the Prime Minister's grudging refusal to admit publicly that he would allow the topic of climate change on to the agenda. Like a kid insisting he will allow only his favourite games at his birthday party, Abbott appeared to spend months refusing to countenance any other country's view.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, describes climate change as 'the defining issue of our time.' But the Australian Prime Minister said it was not to be a priority. By his wilful determination to shut down the subject, he made it the dominant one. Like attempting censorship in an open society, the attempt to suppress it only gave it greater topicality. 

Abbott said that the G20 was an economic forum and he wanted to restrict the agenda to economic issues. But, in reality, his reasoning was based on provincial politics. He had risen to the leadership of his party, and later his country, by campaigning against carbon pricing policies. It was a point of political vanity that he would now turn his back on climate change. He would not allow his Labor opposition the satisfaction of shining a global limelight on an issue seen to be a Labor one.

Zhou Yongkang case won't shake China's foundations, by Merriden Varrall, 9 December.

Yet the acknowledgement by Chinese state media of the damage to the image of the Party and the losses for the people suggests that the revelations of egregious corruption among Party officials do not lead the Chinese people to become disillusioned with the system.

Rather, the narrative is of the people and the Party co-existing as one symbiotic entity. The Party, state, country, and people are not rival forces but facets of the whole. What is bad for one element is bad for the others, and for the system overall. As Frank Pieke has argued, in China it is not helpful to see the Party and the people separately; in fact, the people are the state. Therefore it is not really 'thinkable' for the Chinese people to see these cases of corruption as symptomatic of fundamental systemic problems. In the Chinese common sense, the cancer of corruption is invading the pure body of the Party-state, the cancer must be cured, and the Party-state can and will recover.

As such, revelations of corruption and the expulsion of high-level officials like Zhou may actually galvanise even more loyalty and commitment to the Party-state system.

Lessons on strategic stability and SSBNs from the Cold War, by Sir Mark Stanhope, 12 December.

But how invulnerable are these platforms today?

While science moves on at great pace and solutions for submarine detection are sought through non-acoustic means (for example, the use of satellites), sound in water remains the prime detection mechanism. All of us in the anti-submarine warfare world have been fighting with the physics of this since the advent of the submarine over 100 years ago.

It seems clear to me as a practitioner that noise quietening and signature reduction of nuclear propelled platforms remains the engineering challenge (and cost) that will continue to drive invulnerability. I consider it will continue to be so for some time yet.

Deterrence is about perception and an understanding by each side that there is a certainty of catastrophic retaliation. This certainty, when provided by the SSBN, is made up of a number of separate elements. The first consists of the technological capabilities of both the weapon system and the submarine supporting it. These include design, manufacture and build, engineering readiness, maintenance, sustainability, reliability and a continual need to demonstrate that it all works.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tony Abbott.