Conflicts with Momentum

James W. Boudreau, Timothy Mathews, Shane D. Sanders, Aniruddha Bagchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Take the fort, then take the city. In a two-stage, two-party contest, victory in the initial stage can provide an advantage in the final stage. We examine such momentum in conflict scenarios and investigate how valuable it must be to avoid a Pyrrhic victory. Our main finding is that although the elasticity of effort—which we allow to vary between the two stages—does impact the contestants’ effort levels, it has no bearing on the endogenously determined value of momentum itself. Further, rent dissipation in the two-stage conflict is equal across party whether or not an individual obtains first-stage momentum. Thus, momentum helps a player solely by enhancing marginal ability for victory in the second-stage contest. It does not, however, change the player’s net calculus of second-stage contest spending. Such contestable advantage is also found to be more rent-dissipative than innate/uncontestable advantage. Therefore, Pyrrhic victories should be more common for contests with an intermediate stage or stages in which advantages can be earned, ceteris paribus. While intermediate targets appear as useful conflict benchmarks, they dissipate additional expected contest rents. This additional rent-dissipative toll exists even for backward-inductive equilibrium behavior in a complete information setting. Whereas the quagmire theory suggests parties can become involved in problematic conflicts due to incomplete information, the present paper finds that the setting of conflict—namely, contestable intermediate advantage—can alternatively generate rent-dissipative tolls. Similarly, contestable advantage can lead parties to optimally forego contest participation (i.e., if conflict parameters do not meet the participation constraint). This is in contrast to a one-stage simultaneous contest with second-stage parametric values of the present contest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Conflict
  • Contests
  • Momentum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty
  • Applied Mathematics


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