This paper explores the evolution of international stabilisation agendas and their significance for humanitarian action. Stabilisation includes a combination of military, humanitarian, political and economic activities to control, contain and manage areas affected by armed conflict and complex emergencies. Encompassing narrow security objectives and broader peace-building efforts, stabilisation is both a conservative and potentially transformative, comprehensive and long-term agenda. The open-ended approach allows for widely varying interpretations and applications in different circumstances and by different actors with an assortment of implications for humanitarian action. The relationship between the two is highly uncertain and contentious, due not only to the controversies surrounding stabilisation policies, but also to deep-seated ambiguities at the heart of humanitarianism. While humanitarian actors are preoccupied with the growing involvement of the military in the humanitarian sphere, the paper argues that it is trends in the humanitarian–political interface that represent the more fundamental dilemma.