Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie said this week that nuclear warfare could never qualify as "just" by Christian standards. "There is no such thing as just mutual obliteration," he told the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Runcie said he is "convinced that full-scale nuclear war cannot possibly qualify as a just war." Asked what he would advise if Britain were attacked first with nuclear weapons, he replied, "I cannot ever see myself giving the advice of a return nuclear exchange."

Runcie, who was decorated for gallantry as a tank commander in World War II, warned against complacent dismissal of disarmament proposals, wherever they come from.

"One of the most horrifying aspects of the present situation," he said, "is the apparent placid acceptance of the status quo--when disarmament initiatives are produced by whatever government, it is frightening to hear the immediate dismissive responses." He said it is "incredible to write off every Soviet suggestion as a propaganda ploy."

The governing synod of the Church of England will study a church report next month that calls on Britain to renounce the possession of nuclear weapons.

Britain is scheduled to receive new American cruise missiles this year. The government's decision to rearm with Trident nuclear submarines will be an important issue in upcoming elections.