Managing Asymmetric Conflict

Posted: 29 Feb 2008

See all articles by John Paul Dunne

John Paul Dunne

University of the West of England

María D. C. García‐Alonso

University of Kent, Canterbury

Paul Levine

School of Economics, University of Surrey

Ron Smith

Birkbeck College


This paper considers a simple model of asymmetric conflict, between an incumbent, e.g. government or dominant firm, and potential challengers, e.g. guerrillas or entrants. It is not uncommon for challengers to win such conflicts despite their lack of resources. One way they can do this by exploiting a second mover advantage: choosing to attack the incumbent in ways that it had not prepared for, because it was locked in by past investments. To model such asymmetric conflict we use a three stage game. In the first stage the incumbent chooses effort; in the second stage the challengers choose the degree of differentiation from the incumbent and in the third stage each decide whether to attack or defend and collect their payoffs. Although the game is simple, the calculations required from the players are difficult and shed light on the complexities of many conflicts.

JEL Classification: L10, D74

Suggested Citation

Dunne, John Paul and Garcia-Alonso, Maria Carmen and Levine, Paul L. and Smith, Ron P., Managing Asymmetric Conflict. Oxford Economic Papers, Vol. 58, No. 2, pp. 183-208, 2006. Available at SSRN:

John Paul Dunne

University of the West of England ( email )

Blackberry Hill Bristol
Bristol, Avon BS16 1QY
United Kingdom

Maria Carmen Garcia-Alonso

University of Kent, Canterbury ( email )

Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NZ
United Kingdom

Paul L. Levine (Contact Author)

School of Economics, University of Surrey ( email )

Surrey GU2 7XH
United Kingdom
+44 1483 259 380 Ext. 2773 (Phone)
+44 1483 259 548 (Fax)

Ron P. Smith

Birkbeck College ( email )

Malet Street
London WC1E 7HX
United Kingdom
+44 207 631 6413 (Phone)
+44 207 631 6416 (Fax)

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