This paper explores how the idea of resilience has made its way into the external action of the European Union (EU) and selected member states (Germany, France and Italy) as a means to address areas of limited statehood and contested orders. It examines the debates informing the development of the EU’s external action and current concerns in economic, political, and migration instruments. The main findings are that the EU’s economic and political instruments have become gradually dominated by resilience framings, with an emphasis on multilateralism, adaptation, and long-term and bottom-up responses. Resilience also increasingly drives the humanitarian assistance and development cooperation policies in Germany and to a lesser extent France, which have gradually moved away from top-down administrative and centralized models of governance. The EU and member states like Italy, however, have been more reluctant to foster resilience to address migration issues. Instead, they have prevented flows of irregular migrants into Europe by means of containment strategies such as improving border management, policing, and surveillance and combating smuggling networks.