The Syrian opposition is fragmented, the regime's core appears coup-resistant, and the West fears President Bashar al-Assad less than the radical Islamist alternative.
The year just finished was a brighter one in Europe compared to the economic gloom of 2012. But support for the European Union continued to decline - perhaps to the benefit of far-right parties.
Venezuela lost its leftist leader and the country lost regional influence as oil production continued to fall.
It was a tough year, led by the horrific death toll of the Syrian civil war. Many of the same challenges face 2014 - but with a possible bright spot in an interim nuclear deal with Iran.
The Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya was one example of how gains in prosperity in some African nations could be threatened by violence.
Military posturing between Japan and China was among the key flashpoints in 2013 - and a sign of a regional rivalry that's unlikely to cool down.
Here are 10 top stories Americans followed in 2013, ranked by respondents to a Monitor/TIPP poll according to the percentage who said they followed the story very closely.
Starting in 2014, it will be legal to sell marijuana over the counter in two US states to anyone over 21. Colorado and Washington spent a year crafting a regulatory framework they hope will pass federal muster. Now, the testing day is almost here.
Everything from Advent calendars to gingerbread houses hails from German-speaking Europe. Now another German tradition – the Christmas market – is growing in popularity.
Nearly half of Americans believe there's a 'war on Christmas,' while 9 out of 10 celebrate the holiday, polls show. Navigating the culture wars in the holiday season is as perilous as ever.
Jack Chibi has figured out how to profit from the foreign investment pouring into Zambia's copper-mining sector.
Typhoon Haiyan sparked renewed debate over how much food aid should be sourced locally.
Governments from Myanmar to Zambia are pushing for international aid organizations to work with local companies as they pour in billions in aid and investment.
China has suggested it will create more air defense zones, which worries Southeast Asian nations that have territorial disputes with China.
Regional ties are at a new low since China's unilateral announcement, but China may be willing to endure short-term displeasure for long-term gains.
Convenient and anonymous, alluring and alarming, Bitcoin and other 'cryptocurrencies' come under closer scrutiny. As officialdom tries to figure out if greater oversight is needed, their use is multiplying.
Suspicions about 'the official story' – whether concerning the JFK assassination, Obama's birthplace, or Bush's 'real' role in 9/11 – seem to proliferate in America. At the root of it all, perhaps: distrust of government.
Bolsa Família provides small stipends to families in exchange for kids going to school and getting regular checkups. It's been globally imitated, but some Brazilians say 10 years of welfare is enough.
Programs trading cash for behavior change now reach nearly a quarter of all Latin Americans. How do they work?
Brazil's landmark welfare program stipulates kids go to school and visit doctors regularly. But what happens to a family's government stipend when neighborhood violence keeps kids at home?
Scientists have now identified 1,000 planets revolving around other suns, and 12 of those might actually be able to support life. Finding another Earth within the decade is not outside the realm of possibility.
The dismissal of an outspoken academic at China's top university has sparked renewed debate over the degree to which US universities abroad can maintain their core values.
Xia Yeliang, an outspoken government critic was dismissed from his teaching job at China's top university last month.
Given the extent of the problems with the Obamacare website, it's a tall order to get HealthCare.gov working by Nov. 30. But even if that happens, the goal of getting millions of uninsured people insured still lies ahead.
Obama approval rating has taken a dive, recent polls show. The botched rollout of HealthCare.gov is a likely factor, but it's just one in a series of stumbles making the president appear 'detached.'