What determines the relative power of opposed groups? Power, in the sense of the ability to impose one's own preferred outcome, is often treated as an exogenous property that actors simply "have" or "do not have", but it may also be viewed as determined by underlying variables. Formal models of conflict take the latter approach: The power of an actor is seen as the equilibrium probability that thegroup will win a prize for which it is competing, with this win probability being a function of the resources that are spent by the groups in the fight.
In this thesis I survey the literature on formal models of conflict and their determination of power. I go through various important dimensions of the models and highlight central findings. I also look at some applications, and I make use of the violent political situation in Somalia to illustrate the explanatory potential of the models.
Chapter 2 is a survey of formal models of conflict. I start out with a discussion of models of contests and conflict in general. I then present a basic conflict model to illustrate some important concepts and fix ideas about what a formal contest is. Since this part establishes a baseline for a more advanced understanding, it will be quite thorough and technical material will be explained in some detail. I further discuss how to incorporate the widely employed feature of production into the basic model, before I move on to provide an overview of various extensions to this simple set-up that have been proposed in the literature.
Chapter 3 is a closer look at applications of these models and challenges they face. I use the violent political situation in present-day Somalia as an illustration of an application of a model. The model does capture some very broad traits of the actual conflict, but more careful empirical work is needed for considering policy recommendations.
Chapter 4 suggests several ideas for future work.